Black Sheep Code

In 2023 I found myself in the quite-common-these-days situation of being unemployed after the start up I was working for ran into financial trouble and did an almost 40% workforce reduction. All up I spent six months unemployed.

The state of the job market for software developers in 2023 and 2024 can be put down to interest rates - interest rates are high - companies don't have access to cheap money to fund their growth, venture capital firms don't have cheap money to pour into start ups. Companies have cut costs through redundancies, and so for the roles that do exist, there is a glut of developers, many of them very experienced, competing for the role.

Here is my advice for experienced developers in this job market.

Accept that the job market has changed, and act accordingly

The job market of 2018-2022 perhaps got me complacent. Where then I could 'allow my CV to speak for itself' and 'although I don't have the specific experience required for this role, I can demonstrate the aptitude to pick things up' - companies are no longer struggling to find talent - they have the opposite problem - their roles are being inundated with applications and they need to cull the application list somehow. What might have worked for you in 2020 may not continue working for you now.

Keyword stuff your CV (doing it honestly)

My job search experience has been that at least half of advertised React developer roles are mentioning either GraphQL or NextJS. These are technologies that I'm familiar with - I know what their purpose is and what their advantages are, but they're not technologies that I've used extensively, so I'd just omitted them from my CV.

In hindsight, I suspect this was a mistake. If a company is using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that scans CVs for keywords, or just has a human scanning the CV for keywords, and those keywords aren't there, you might be automatically being rejected without a phone call.

Find a way to include those keywords in your CVs without explicitly lying.

For example, I could have written:

You can also include an 'Open Source/Portfolio' section of your CV, where I would include this blog for example, and you can include anything you want in there - just write a blog post about it, and you now you can honestly include it in your CV.

Fill out the CV forms correctly

I don't know if this made a difference or not, but myworkday and have a feature where they scan your CV and automatically fill their form. The problem is, often the autofill isn't very good, particularly with bullet points and line breaks.

I was opting to submit my CV as is, but where that might have been ok four years ago, this might have been one thing that put my application in the too-hard basket.

Talk to former colleagues - they'll help you answer some of the behavioural questions

I had been struggling with behavioural questions - notably 'tell us about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker' and 'tell us about your experience mentoring juniors'.

I mentioned this to a former colleague, and she said 'Well we'd disagree all the time, but what I liked about when you disagreed with me, you'd say "I'm going to push back on that" and that would prepare me so I wouldn't take it so personally'. Bingo! I've got a great line I can give the next time I'm asked that question - "Well I was talking to a former colleague the other day, and she said...". This answer serves as a double-whammy - because it also demonstrates that you're likeable enough that you're maintaining a cordial relationship with colleagues after you've left the job.

Apply formulas to answer behavioural questions

For example, I used to answer the 'What are you looking for in your next role' question with a fairly honest answer about where I want my career to go.

Problem is - that might be not perfectly overlap with what they need for the role.

Now instead, I apply this formula:

  1. Talk about your experience, as it relates to the role ("I have seven years experience with React, TypeScript, JavaScript build tooling...")
  2. Highlight your long term goals, as it relates to the role ("I'm looking for somewhere to apply these skill and continue developing them, as well as develop experience in...")
  3. Tie things back to the company values (Most organisations have a 'Values' section on their webpage - use that. "I'm looking the work in an organisation that values innovation and inclusiveness")

Google for other common behavioural interview questions and suggested formulas for answering them.

When you're unsuccessful ask for feedback

It's not reasonable to expect feedback if it's a rejection with no interview.

But if you've had an interview, then ask for feedback. They've already rejected you - it's not like asking for feedback is going to jeopardise your application.

Keep a record of job applications

I found creating a word document with a table the easiest way to do this.

In it, I would include:

Recognise the fight-or-flight response

I don't have advice here, but an observation. As soon as I had an offer, it was like a fog lifted - where I had trouble focusing or retaining motivation to build things, after I had an offer the fog was gone and I'd do little improvements to the blog just like that.

My theory is that when you're unemployed your brain can get into a fight-or-flight mode, thrashing wildly without seeing the bigger picture.

For me, one thing that did help was focusing on hobbies that aren't career related - for me that was my typewriters.

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