Perfecting the Plan: Strategizing your Job Hunt
All of us have been here—many of us this year, some of us just this month. One thing leads to another, sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly: it’s time to find a new job.
After 2.5 years of teaching and managing the teaching team at Epicodus, I was at this point earlier this year. Despite my fears that I wouldn’t find another team I enjoyed as much, or find a job I found as rewarding, I knew that it was time to move on. I felt stuck, as far as my skills and expertise went, with little room to grow. I felt underpaid and overworked. I was stressed and exhausted, burned out, and ready for something new.
Luckily, I had some time after my last job ended—and I knew it was important for me to find a position that wasn’t just a stopgap job, but to make a real career move. In short, I knew I needed to be strategic in my approach.
After a couple of months of researching, networking, applying and interviewing, I found an amazing job that fits all of my criteria with a company I see myself sticking with for the long term. Being clear on what I wanted, how much I wanted to make, and where I wanted my career to go was absolutely crucial to being able to say no to unsuitable opportunities and land an awesome job.
I still feel fulfilled by sharing what I learn with others; that part hasn’t changed. And so, here it is, my no-holds-barred guide in three installments: Prework, Groundwork, and Final Stretch (aka Are We There Yet?).
If you find this helpful or want to share your experience, respond on the blog or Tweet me! @perrysetgo
What You’ll Need
For this stage, you’ll need several large (!) sheets of paper. Butcher paper is ideal. You’ll also need coloured markers for these exercises. Allot time where you can work with focus and be undisturbed.
Figuring out the needs, nice to haves, and deal breakers
Taking the time to figure out exactly what you want to be doing is time well spent at this stage in the game, as it can help you shape the trajectory and make sure you don’t say yes to an offer that isn’t a good fit. Start by writing down everything that comes into your head, both positive and negative, lofty and concrete, about all areas of work. Now is not the time for self-censorship; if it comes into your mind, write it down. Think about your dreams, things that make you frustrated, experiences you’ve had, good or bad. Write it all down.
Here are some questions to help you get started.
What kind of team do you work in? What size? What style?
Do you want to manage people? What kind of management or leadership are you hoping for?
What kinds of projects do you want to work on? What bores you? Excites you?
Remote or on-location? Travel? Are you open to relocating?
What do career development opportunities look like for you?
Will you have the opportunity to travel to conferences and other networking opportunities?
What about diversity and inclusion efforts; what is important to you?
What compensation and benefits package are you hoping for?
You can add anything else to this list that is unique to your situation, of course.
Once you have answered as many of these questions as you are able to, group everything relevant that came out of your head into one of the these categories:
Needs: What am I not willing to compromise on for any reason.
Wants (aka Nice To Haves): What I would love to have at my dream job, but could compromise on if necessary.
Dealbreakers: What I am not willing to do for any reason.
2.) Mapping out your network
We all know that having a strong network is important—but it only works when you know it!
On a second piece of paper, write down all of the obstacles you can see in trying to find your dream job. You can also write down all the connections you don’t have—if you feel you want to become an engineering manager but don’t know any, then write it down. This part was super daunting for me, but it was important that I identified and addressed gaps.
Take your time with this, and be kind with yourself throughout this process. It is not supposed to be a laundry list of failures. Mapping this out is the first step to rectifying any perceived or real weak spots.
Once you have the list of obstacles, give yourself a big pat on the back and take a break. Do something nice to reward yourself for this work.
After taking a break, it’s time to find solutions to the obstacles you have identified.
On another piece of paper, create three columns:
Things you need to know
People you already know who can help you
People you need to meet
With a critical but kind eye, group things that came up into the following areas:
Things You Need, or Need To Know
This can be a specific skill, such as a JS framework or a certification, or it can be a deeper understanding of the job requirements for a certain position; it is whatever fits for your situation.
People You Already Know
After your previous work, this part should come easily! I used my email, Linkedin and Twitter account to jog my memory for an introduction, recommendation, or referral.
People You Need To Meet
Make a thorough list of the kind of people who you need to connect with to help you reach your goals.
And you’re done!
Once you’ve completed this inventory, you’ll have a lot to work with. This process might bring up a lot of strong feelings—round it by doing some journalling, freewriting, painting, or other work if you feel compelled to. I journaled, extensively, during this time—even more than normal! Talking to others also felt great, but it can be heartbreaking to be confronted with stark realism and naysayers at this stage, so disclose only to your cheerleading squad in these early days.
Now that you’ve taken time to carefully map out your needs, wants, dealbreakers, obstacles, assets-to-acquire, and angels, you are in awesome shape to make intentional moves towards your next job. In the next instance, we’ll leave the paper behind and move on to….coffee! Lots and lots of coffee. And Slack. Stay tuned for part 2.
Perry (they or he pronouns) is on a mission to make tech more inclusive. Before running Community at Netlify, Perry taught at a leading Portland code school for several years. A queer, non-binary, self-taught developer, Perry is intrigued by the intersections between tech and other fields of study. Perry loves riding their bike fast, laughing out loud, hanging with Lena Bean the Dog, and backpacking around Oregon's wilder areas. Follow Perry on Twitter.