Reducing job hunt stress

emotional intelligence , software engineering , job-hunt

Job hunts are stressful, and my goal for job hunts is getting the job I want while minimizing my stress. The stress comes from: lack of confidence, being rushed, not having options, disappointing others and the pressure from current job responsibilities. By expecting and mitigating each of these stressors I greatly reduce stress during my job hunt.

Before you start

Before we get started, skim decisive and listen to switching jobs or staying where you are. It takes 30 minutes, but given how hard job changes are, I strongly recommend it.

Job hunt priorities

  1. Get the best job you can - You’ll have it for the next 4 years, this is a very high leverage activity
  2. Get the job as fast as you can - Looking for work is expensive in stress and time. Don’t drag it out. You’ll have worse performance at work. And you’ll be stressed. That said, prepare yourself, it’s a slow process, which I discuss in stressors
  3. Being over prepared is worth it - You can’t know what they will ask. The consequence to being over prepared is you’re ready for the next one. The consequence to being under prepared is you fail 1 and 2.
  4. Your current Job - Don’t do a bad job, but this energy has the lowest ROI.

And remember

  1. Don’t leave a job, go to a job
  2. Take Notes - You’ll be doing this again
  3. Do it every day - Small effort daily adds up

Stressors and Mitigations

Lack of confidence

  • Study for technical interviews - Study Elements of Programming Interviews, system design questions, modern developer tools and hacking the SDE interview. Expect to spend 4-8 hours a week for 4 to 8 weeks. The longer it’s been since you’ve interviewed last, the longer this will take.
  • Buy a full size whiteboard. Practice answering questions on it. I’m not kidding.
  • Prepare for behavioral questions - Think through your previous projects for situations that demonstrate leadership, confidence, team building and be prepared to discuss them.
  • Do mock interviews - ask your friends and colleagues to interview you. You should fail the first few mock interviews it’s normal.
  • Remember interviews are optimized to reduce false positives, not false negatives, so expect to fail some. It’s normal.

Being rushed

The job hunting process is slow, with lots of unexpected and uncontrollable wait times. It takes time to schedule informational, then interviews, then getting news on the offer then negotiating with multiple companies. At each of these steps managers and recruiters are busy, on vacation, etc, etc. If you’re being thorough from your first informational to your final offer I’d allocate 3 months.

  • Know your “must be done by” date - don’t get stressed over your own fake deadlines.
  • Your “must be done by” date is usually much farther in the future then you think.
  • Your time it takes to get through the process is usually longer then you think (expect 3 months)
  • Space your early interviews wider apart so you have time to correct major interviewing gaps.
  • To speed things up study, and get through your informationals in parallel.

Lack of options for next jobs

  • Figure out what you want to accomplish - I use the Business model You approach to figuring it out.
  • Look around for who is hiring
  • Start and maintain a list of candidate jobs
  • Have a worst case scenario job
  • Start with non-prestigious companies and leave the best ones the last, this builds your skills and confidence, while not wasting the best companies.

Disappointing others

  • Be honest with yourself about what you can control and share.
  • Think about what you can do to reduce the impact to your customers, partners, subordinates and bosses.
  • You might think telling others early is the ethical thing to do, but the ambiguity will cause them unnecessary stress.
  • Think of your team as a river not a lake. I know, this makes no sense - until you read this.

Pressure from current job

  • Negotiate with your current boss for time to work on job hunt.
  • Recall your highest priority is the next job, but you have existing commitments.

Even when you know about the stressors, the job hunt is still an emotional roller coaster. Expect to have “ups” and “downs”. Have a support network with whom you can vent, share disappointments, and gloat.

Learnings from my last job hunts

During your career - Do a great job ‘.’

  • Previous co-workers provide important recommendations
  • Gather artifacts during your career you can share.
  • Meet folks, develop contacts, even if it’s expensive and you may not go there.

During the job hunting process - Avoid making up stories in your head.

  • Do not compare options you do not have.
  • I passed interviews I was sure I failed
  • I didn’t get offers on companies that said I had them
  • I had offers rescinded, and then re-instated.

During the job hunting process - You own your schedule

  • Feel free to to say let’s interview first, and then based on timelines lock team (helps get good offers)
  • Interview at your non-ideal companies, who knows, you might find it’s the most interesting job.
  • Interview at high paying companies even if you won’t go there, who knows, maybe you will, and if you won’t it helps you negotiate.
  • Some recruiters use pressure tactics, be respectful, but do what’s right for you. (I’m not a fan of this recruiting strategy, but it works)

During the interview - You own getting them the data they need

  • Do not get cocky. They are interviewing you, not vice versa
  • Draw pictures, makes it easier to understand
  • Aim for consistency, get good at telling your stories and focusing on the message
  • When something varies over time, pick a point in time to avoid inconsistencies.
  • You don’t need to answer the exact question, answer it, but also add more context and thoughts on the topic.
  • Leave hooks to get interviewer to ask follow-ups where you want them (e.g. lets come back to that, would you like me to talk about).
  • Share artifacts you collected through your career.
  • Turn off your phone
  • Give interviewers a set of choices to dig into (E.g I can talk about X or Y, which would you like)
  • Give several examples from the same project to an interviewer to avoid too much time giving context.

After your interview - You just spent a whole day in the spotlight.

  • Your self-evaluation is often wrong.
  • Even after success you need time to unwind.
  • Do post interview retros to remove “step into jail” answers
  • The more delays in hearing back from the company, the more likely there is stuff going on that’s bad for you - like offers to other candidates.

After your have all your offers:

  • Congrats - your hard work paid off! You made it.
  • Now your stress is FOMO (Fear of missing out)!
  • Think deeply about your dream job. You won’t be able to check all the boxes, but know your criteria to make great decisions.
  • For apples to apples compensation comparisons, look at Total compensation
  • Use the decisive to help you decide.

During your day job - your lowest priority

  • You need to be OK doing a worse job at work then normal, even though it’s going to be painful, that’s the correct priority.
  • Tell your boss (and if needed co-workers) you have some personal stuff you need to be taking care of so may need to reduce output and get extra support.