What Should You Expect?
Part 1 Finding and Hooking Your Next Employer
IN THIS PART …
Find companies that are hiring programmers and learn how to show your value to a company.
Know how companies are preparing to hire their new programmers so you can tell the interview team how you’re the right fit.
Understand how to show interviewers that hiring you will make the company more successful.
IN THIS CHAPTER
- Understanding the interviewing process
- Tailoring and submitting your résumés and cover letters
- Learning what happens after a company expresses interest in you
- Dealing with one or more job offers
Congratulations on wading into the river in your knee-high boots to find your awesome programming self a new employer. The river is running fast, so you’ve got to look sharp to find the right catch.
In this chapter, you start your fishing expedition by understanding the process to get an interview. Next, you learn what your potential employer wants so that you can tailor each résumé you send for each position.
Employers are more likely to respond if you have an application and résumé that has what they are looking for. Once you get a nibble, then you’ll start to play the numbers game. That is, it’s rare that you’ll catch your fish on the first line or even the first ten lines you cast. There are a lot of other programmers fishing at the same time you are, even if you can’t see them.
Next, you’ll need to put a lot of applications in the water and see what comes up. Some companies will call you and others will email you. And that could lead to phone screens, interviews, and tests. We give you your fly rod, landing nets, wading boots, and all your other gear that may lead to a catch — a job offer — and we explain why you may not get one.
Understanding the Interviewing Process Funnel
If you’re new to interviewing, or if you haven’t interviewed in a while, you may be surprised to find out what happens during the interviewing process. The more prepared you are before the process starts, the better your chances of success. Yes, it’s trite, but if you understand why, then you’ve already taken the first step toward your new work site.
You can think of the interviewing process as a funnel that both you and companies use to find the best match. (If you need to go to the kitchen and get a funnel as a visual reminder, we’ll wait.) Employers advertise for a programming job, get a lot of résumés stuffed into the funnel, and then respond to the best résumés that come out the bottom of the funnel, enabling worthy candidates to proceed to the next level.
You’re putting a lot of employers at the top of your funnel, too — many are companies you’ve sent résumés to and some may be companies you’ve contacted through friends or colleagues who have referred you for an open position, advertised or not.
Before you start the process, you need to make sure you not only have your ducks (or the waterfowl of your choice) in a row, but also that you are careful as you align each duck. Fortunately, your authors are experts in the duck-alignment business, so we provide guidance on how to get your résumé error-free, how to polish your presentation so you aren’t nervous or unnerved by an unanticipated question, and how to ace your tests.
We’re going to use the funnel concept in this chapter, too. That is, we’ll take all the high-level information you need to know about finding your next employer in this chapter, which is at the top of the funnel. If you want to go down the funnel and concentrate on the topics you need to work on in detail, we tell you which chapters to bookmark for future reading.
Finding Companies That Are Hiring
Searching for companies that are hiring to fill the position you’re looking for isn’t as easy and straightforward as it may seem. You not only have to know which companies are hiring, but also which companies may be relying on their network of employees to find the right candidate. That means you need to network with those employees — yesterday.
As recently as 2017, estimates are that between 70 and 85 percent of open positions are filled through professional networks than through job opening advertisements (
So, what can you do to improve your chances of hooking the company you want to work for?
The best place to start to meet other professionals online is the professional social networking site LinkedIn (
www.linkedin.com), shown in Figure 1-1. LinkedIn offers the best opportunity for meeting like-minded professionals for two compelling reasons. First, LinkedIn has over 610 million users as of February 8, 2019 (
https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/by-the-numbers-a-few-important-linkedin-stats). That being so, employers look at your LinkedIn profile as well as your résumé as they decide if they want to call or email you to set up a phone screen or interview.
FIGURE 1-1: Join LinkedIn by clicking Join Now in the upper-right corner of the login page, or sign in by clicking the Sign In button.
Second, you can use LinkedIn to search for the companies you want to work for and see the profiles of the people who work for them. You may get lucky and some of the employees’ profiles will include contact information such as an email address you can use to reach out and introduce yourself. If not, then you have two options.
You can send a connection request to the employee. Once connected, members can send and receive messages within LinkedIn for free. When you send a connection request, you should introduce yourself and at least say which LinkedIn user you both have in common to enhance your chances that employee will add you as a connection.
You can also sign up for a LinkedIn Premium account, which is free for 30 days (and $29.99 per month for the Premium Career plan after that). With a LinkedIn Premium account you can send an InMail message to introduce yourself, say what your skills are, and ask for more information about job opportunities.
When you view the employee’s profile, see if the employee belongs to any LinkedIn groups and join those groups. Then you can participate in those groups by starting useful conversations or sending thoughtful responses in other conversations. In time others will respond and the employee will (hopefully) notice that you’re a valuable group member and he or she should get to know you better.
If you already have a LinkedIn profile, then you should do a lot of what we suggest above — now. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, get one set up and start networking! In either case, craft your LinkedIn profile carefully and follow LinkedIn’s suggestions for creating a 100 percent complete profile. Employers will pass you by if they see that your profile isn’t 100 percent complete and/or missing crucial information you need to show to get an interview.
Meet in person
In addition to networking online, another way to help improve your chances of hooking the company you want to work for is to network in person. After all, people tend to remember you longer if they can talk to you face to face. Always be on the lookout for professional meetings that are happening in your area and go to as many as you can.
The latest issue of your local newspaper and/or business journal (if there is one) will have a calendar of upcoming events. Your local chamber of commerce website and social networking groups will likely have event calendars, too. The Meetup website (
www.meetup.com) shown in Figure 1-2 is also a popular site for finding a list of in-person events about all sorts of topics.
FIGURE 1-2: Click the Join Meetup button to create an account and find events that attract software developers like you.
If you go to any networking event, be sure to have business cards ready to hand out after you shake the person’s hand. The card should include your name and contact information and list your skills on the back side of the card. If you type inexpensive business cards in your favorite search engine, you’ll find websites that let you design and order cards in a jiffy, such as the VistaPrint website (
www.vistaprint.com) you see in Figure 1-3.
FIGURE 1-3: The VistaPrint website gives you plenty of options to design the right business card for you.
Look at company websites
You should look on the websites of companies that you want to work for in your area and see if you know company employees you can contact. For example, the website may include a blog with the names of people who have written the blog, and you may want to contact the author. The company website may also have job opening posted on one of its pages, such as a Careers page.
Applying to the company directly also has another potential advantage: The company may be using a placement agency as a resource to find new hires. If the company hires you directly, it doesn’t have to pay a commission to the placement agency.
Check the company website to see if applications for the open position are only being accepted through a placement agency. If you apply both to the placement agency and to the company directly, it will look to your prospective employer that you’re inattentive at best and spamming them at worst — both reasons to put your résumé in the round file.
We get into more detail about searching high and low for companies you want to work for in Chapter 4.
Submitting Your Résumés
Once you’ve found the companies you want to apply to that have exited the bottom your funnel and landed on your desk, it’s time for you to write your résumé and a cover letter to each company.
Each of your résumés and cover letters has to be different because every job description is different. The cover letter and résumé have to show that you can read the description carefully and you have the skills listed in the job requirements. What’s more, each cover letter should introduce yourself and why you’re a good fit for the position.
Consider adding information about ties you have to the company in your cover letter. For example, you can tell people that you met one of their team members (or even the interviewer) at a local event or that you worked with some of the same technologies the company uses in one of your past jobs. Showing a potential interviewer that you’ve done extra credit work gets you that extra step toward an interview.
It’s perfectly okay to take as much time as you need to get your résumé and cover letter right for the job you’re applying for, from crafting the layout to a last once-over to ensure you haven’t misspelled any words. (You learn more about how to shine up your résumé — and your social media profiles, which are just as important — in Chapter 5.) But what if this extra time getting ready causes you to miss an opportunity, you ask? We cover this eventuality later in this chapter.
If you’re still not confident about your skills, don’t be shy about looking for résumé and cover letter writing firms in your area. Yes, these firms charge you money, but isn’t it worth it to know you have a powerful résumé and cover letter that you can tweak for each job whenever you need them?
If a company is advertising for several jobs that you qualify for, take care to find out if each job is in a different division of the company. In large companies, one division will send out job applications independent of other divisions in the company. If the company website (or better yet, a contact you know at the company) says the company is smaller, then choose the job you’re most interested in because the company will likely consider you for other jobs as well. When you submit multiple résumés and cover letters for different jobs in the same company, that will reek of desperation on your part, and reeking in any situation is a bad thing.
A Company Is Interested! Now What?
With your résumé in the employers’ funnels, now you wait to see if yours comes out of the bottom of their funnels so that they can give you a call to the phone number or send you a message to the email address on your résumé or cover letter.
What are the chances you’re going to get a call back or an email response? We can tell you that the chances are zero if the contact information on your cover letter and résumé are different. We can also tell you the chances of getting a call back aren’t very good if you don’t follow up — even if you submitted your résumé late or think you did.
And by follow up, we mean that you have to follow up often. When should you start following up? This is where you should contact people in your network who work at the company to get an idea. If you’re still not sure, then we recommend waiting one week before calling and/or sending email messages to the human resources (HR) department and/or the manager of the division that’s hiring.
Following up aggressively never loses you a job because the company representatives will sense that you want to work for them. It’s rare if a company will say outright that it doesn’t want to hire you because you’re too pushy, and if it does, then that’s a company you probably don’t want to work for, anyway.
When you get that phone call or email message, the company likely wants to ask you a few follow-up questions to clarify some points or, more likely, wants to schedule a phone screening interview or even an in-person interview. It should go without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that you need to be near your phone and/or your computer so you can take that call or view that email message as quickly as possible so you can respond fast. Companies like that.
The company representative who calls you will suggest some dates and times for an interview. Have your schedule in your head and be ready to give the company an interview date and time right after the company rep stops talking. Don’t pull up the calendar app on your phone while you keep the company rep on the other line waiting while you think about it. If you hem and haw, you’ve lost the job.
Participating in phone screens
If the company has decided to interview you by phone, which is what companies call a phone screen, you need to be aware of what the interviewers may ask of you. For example:
- You’ll be asked technical questions to make sure you can do the job you’re applying for.
- Your personality needs to mesh with other people in the company, so your interviewers will want to know how you behave. Be nice and stay humble. Cockiness or arrogance will tell the interviewers that you won’t be a good fit in the company culture.
- You’ll want to show that you’re a professional, so answer your questions thoughtfully. Don’t lie, don’t say anything derogatory, don’t brag, and don’t try to justify why you don’t know something. Any or all of these red flags will be good cause for the interviewers to keep you from reaching the bottom of the company’s hiring funnel.
Interviewers may also want to have a meeting using Skype or a different instant messaging app so that they can see you in person as well as give you the ability to solve one or more coding problems on the screen. You learn more about what to do, what not to do, and what to expect in your phone screen in Chapter 7.
Going to in-person interviews
A successful phone screen will likely mean you’ll need to schedule an in-person interview. In some cases you’ll have only an in-person interview. For example, a company may either be so small that it doesn’t do phone interviews, or the company prefers in-person interviews to get a better feel for its candidates.
Depending on the size of the company, you may be interviewing with people from HR as well as with at least one member of the team you’d be working for, or you may be interviewing with the founders of a small or startup company.
If you can, ask your contacts in the company what the interview process is like and what you should look out for in the interview.
What’s more, you may want to ask your friends to participate in mock interview sessions so you can be as ready as possible. Some of those friends can be interviewers and others can be out of view to record your responses so that you can then discuss what to do. These mock sessions may take up part or all of a day, so be sure to stage them where there’s plenty of room to operate and allows you to bring in good food to thank your friends. Depending on how good the food is, your friends may be willing to participate in more than one session, and you may even attract one of your connections either in the company or who has interviewed programmers before to participate.
We talk more about how to set up and conduct a mock interview in Chapter 8.
In an in-person interview, the perception of you as a person is just as powerful (if not more so) as what you can do as a programmer. So dress professionally when you go to your interview. You should dress professionally no matter if you’re being interviewed by one person or a panel of interviewers.
Even if the interview team tells you that you can dress in a T-shirt and flip-flops for the interview, don’t do it. Dress professionally. When the interviewers comment that you overdressed for the occasion, it’s a perfect opportunity for you to say that you like to present yourself as professionally as possible.
Think about how you treat someone in uniform as opposed to someone else in casual civilian clothing. You’ll treat that person differently even though you may not realize it. If you dress professionally, your interviewers will treat you more professionally and may think you’re a cut above the rest.
What’s your value?
During the interview, you have to do one thing to get to the next level: communicate your value to the company. Dressing professionally helps demonstrate that you’re a professional, but you also need to tell people how you work.
For example, you can talk about a problem you had at a company you worked for and how you worked with other employees both on your team and throughout the company to solve it.
Your interviewers will likely value knowing that you can work independently as well, so let them know you’ll do whatever it takes to create solutions that will profit the company. If you can give your interviewers an example of what you did at a previous job to do this, tell your story. Humans are hardwired to tell and respond to stories, and having stories is more memorable and powerful than just saying you’ve programmed in C++ for ten years.
Being prepared for tests
You may have your programming skills tested during a phone screen, an in-person interview, or both. A company may also schedule you to participate in one or more separate testing sessions after an in-person interview. Testing helps your interviewers understand how you solve programming problems, to wit:
- What is your thought process to approaching problems?
- How do you break down a problem?
- Once you have the problem broken down, how do you craft an elegant solution?
Interviewers don’t want to know how you memorize and practice problems, though practicing them is a good idea and you learn how to approach different types of problems later in this book, including:
- Data structures (Chapter 9)
- Design patterns (Chapter 10)
- Sorting (Chapter 11)
- Solving puzzles (Chapter 12)
Also, in Chapter 8 you learn about online resources you can use to learn how to hone your testing skills.
Your networking skills will come into play as you prepare for testing, too. You may be able to talk with your connections at the company and other connections both in person and online about the types of problems they’ve encountered and how they approached the solutions.
When you perform your mock interview sessions, you may want to include programming questions as part of one or more sessions. As you go along, you’ll need to talk through how you’re solving the problem and why you’re solving the problem that way. Speaking out loud as you work on problems — even as you do so online — will force your mind to think through every problem and make you a more confident tester.
Dealing with One or (Better Yet) Multiple Offers
If you’ve applied to a large number of companies (20 or even more) to maximize your chances of being interviewed, it’s possible you may receive one or more offers from companies even as you have other interviews scheduled.
Chapters 13 and 14 tell you about honing your negotiating skills to not only get the highest compensation from the company, but also how to get the most value from your employment, such as retirement plans and how often you can go on leave for any reason. When everyone puts his or her cards face up on the table, you’ll need to know when to accept the offer or walk away.
You also learn how to manage your schedule so you can take yourself off the market and get ready to become an employee of your new company.
You were sure you were going to get an offer from the company you desperately want to work for and it didn’t happen. Why not, you cry into the wind? Sometimes the company is keeping a secret: It already has an internal candidate hired or identified but it has to advertise the job because of company policy and/or employment laws. So, you could have a perfect experience interviewing for a company and still not get the job. This is another reason why you should apply (and interview) for as many jobs as possible so you better your chances of landing at least one offer.