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What I Learned Looking for a New Job

· 7 min read

Yesterday was my last day at the company I've worked with for the last 4 years. On Monday I start at my new position. In the meantime, I hope to be a little more creative in my personal spaces; here on the blog, over on Twitch, etc.

Here are some things I learned while job hunting:

Don't Give a Number

In all previous job searches, I'd decided to ask for X% more than my current salary when talking with potential employers. Invariably, I never received an offer for more than that, and often less.

This time, I simply told them my current salary, and explained that any offer I received would go through a risk-reward analysis in my mind. After all, I could have stayed at my current job, even if it wasn't what I really wanted to be doing. While this may end up wasting some of your time (see below), it can also pay off.

Imagine my surprise when I received an offer for a substantial increase in salary! We're talking >50% here, which blew my mind. The remnants of my shattered psyche were then completely demolished when, at my next interview, I was told that they could match that offer! By the time the third company said the same, I realized that I'd been setting myself up to be underpaid by telling prospective employers how much I would settle for.

Apply Everywhere

I applied to at least a dozen companies. One of them seemed like a real long shot, as they dealt with big data management and expected a knowledge of SQL queries I didn't have. But I applied anyway, and even took a test quiz to create some complicated queries. I was sure that was the end of the line for me there, but instead of just giving up, I did as much as I could, and documented where I couldn't continue, and what I thought might be the next steps. And yet I passed to the next step of the process.

The point here is that it's not always what you already know that's most important; sometimes it's demonstrating your capacity to learn.

Check Glassdoor

Glassdoor is a great resource for those on the job hunt. Like any set of reviews, remember that those with a negative impression are more likely to provide feedback, so reviews are likely to skew in that direction. But the one company with consistent poor reviews lived up to their reputation with me...

Once I had an offer, I reached out to the other companies I was in talks with to let them know. I was now on a time limit, and wouldn't give up a bird in the hand for two in the bush. It was only then, in the 3rd or so round of discussions with this company, that they told me they were willing to "increase the base pay" for the role to match my current salary. Remember, this is after setting a clear expectation in the first meeting that I wasn't prepared to leave my position without a compelling monetary gain.

It was a complete waste of time, both mine and theirs. Maybe if they had some awesome role, with amazing benefits and great culture, I could have been convinced to make a lateral move. But Glassdoor had already told me that wasn't the case, and we promptly ended talks there.

Consider How They Treat Your Time

In the process of interviewing for a role in technical writing, I was asked to provide writing examples, do writing exercises, and all other manner of proof that I had the skills needed. The companies that immediately turned me off were the ones that asked for me to complete writing exercises for them immediately. One even asked for a personal essay, before we ever spoke!

I get it if you're a big company and you want to weed people out of the process as early as possible, but how is a 15 minute meeting to talk going to take more time, for both parties, than writing and then reading an essay, or reviewing a writing exercise specific to that job, which I couldn't use elsewhere?

As far as I'm concerned, this behavior tells me how that company respects (or doesn't) your time, and it won't end when you're hired.

I've worked on open documentation repositories for the last decade. Everything I've written, edited, and (for the most part) discussed is out in the open on GitHub. The company I accepted a role at happened to be the only one where I knew they looked at my actual work history, laid bare as it is. While this wasn't the only deciding factor, it showed that they respected my time by seeing what was already out there, and not asking me to rehash or reform my body of work specifically for them to consider.

Give Honest Feedback Before You Go

As I said above, I could have stayed put. I wasn't happy, but I was paid well enough and received positive feedback for my work. I could have kept muddling through, finding solace in the fact that I was part of a great team and we were fighting through the problems together.

But I was depressed. Not clinically, just as a description of my emotional state. And I didn't even realize it until I put in my notice. The resignation that I couldn't change the problems affecting my work had affected my mood in and out of work. Only after getting over the dread of having to tell my lovely and supportive manager that I was leaving did I start to feel a change.

The company I just left is full of amazing and wonderful people. As a part of the technical writing team, I had a chance to interact with most teams, trying to find, consolidate, and manage the knowledge needed for customers and staff to be successful.

But the problems were systemic, and my years there showed me they were unlikely to change. I'm not going to sit here and bad-mouth them publicly, but I made sure to be respectful but honest in my exit interview. What they do with this information is beyond my control. All I could do is document the problems as best I could, providing resources for others to use in continuing to fight for change.

Moving forward

I'd been told by coworkers in the past to always be looking at what's out there. Take meetings and see how other companies value your worth to them. Doing so may have informed me that I could be making more money earlier, but I just don't think I have it in me. Job hunting takes a lot of time and energy, especially when doing it in earnest. And the value I place in my time and others' is too high to waste it by pursuing opportunities I don't intend to consider taking.

Having said that... I don't know. I stayed with each of my last two jobs for over 4 years, which seems long compared to the job histories I look at on LinkedIn. Tech folk seem to move around every 2 to 3 years on average, but I'm not sure why that is.

This is where I'd love to get more input and feedback. Why do tech folks move around so often?