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Job Search Lessons

I thought it would be appropriate to recap some lessons from my job search so far given we (me and my brain) are coming up on the one year anniversary of this still ongoing :grimacing: hunt. It has been a long year in more ways than one!


This sounds like an easy one, but it isn’t mentioned enough and more than often completely ignored! Do you remember that letter that Andy wrote Red towards the end of The Shawshank Redemption? It said:

Remember Red,
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.
And no good thing ever dies


Also if you haven’t watched this masterpiece, please do so. You’re welcome. 1994 is an undefeated movie year so far, go look.

You will encounter a lot of people from different walks of life. If you are a minority, even less folks to relate to. Some of these interactions may be discouraging, you might have to try and break into the tech industry or data science for a year, or have the worst recruiter experiences. I am not saying give up (well you shouldn’t). What you need is a plan and a break. Everyday, do something that helps improve your chances - networking, making projects, learning something new. Also, take breaks. Job searches are mentally exhausting, and financial or immigration constraints like mine make it even more psychologically imposing. The growth activities will help you remember why you are still doing this, and you never know who is watching your progress. Speaking of…

It’s a Full Time Job

Know that a job search requires your commitment. You should come up with a process that allows you to follow the best job search practices, keep up and practice on the skills needed for those jobs you aspire to have, and rest when you need to. There is no perfect candidate, so try to remember that as you encounter all the overwhelming job requirements on those descriptions. My days involve a variation of the following:

  • A mindfulness and rest procedure: it could be praying, reading, croquetting, whatever floats your boat
  • Learning (and documenting) something new about the industry I am trying to work in: See the below section. The days are all different, but the theme is the same. Progress!
  • Actual job applications: As you will see below, a good job application takes time. This ends up being a submission of about one application every other day. Everyday though, there are tasks that go to getting us to the point where we press send on the application.
  • Networking: not to get a job necessarily, at least not all the time. Twitter works for me and allows me to ask questions about concepts, workplace culture, what my gaps are etc. And sometimes, just laughing at all the Verzuz comments because it’s fun. On this point, be mindful of your time and energy. Do not spend half the day on Slack or Twitter - so easy to do this. The goal is to know of people who are on your journey at different stages and grow together. You’ve heard it’s who you know right? Well you need to know the people before that saying works.
  • Making (small) money moves: This one may be optional. If you are lucky enough to be financially stable, you may not need to work on the side doing odd jobs. Some of us do, so plan the types of things you commit to so they maybe work around your “finding a job” job.

Learn Out Loud

In terms of content for me, this may include practicing good coding habits, most useful statistical concepts to master, situational problem-solving, how to write technical presentations for a non-technical audience, framing business questions for a project I’m working on.. Fellow introverts, you may want to try this out there - in the company of others. It does expose your insecurities especially as a learner. However, you get the chance to learn and network. Also, people are watching. I use Twitter a lot for this. There is an awesome community of people who share resources and we all root for each other while growing. This is part of that hope plan. You are not alone out there, friend!

For When You Apply

You learn pretty quickly that just submitting 10 job applications a day and hoping for a response is not going to cut it in the big data era. In fact, you are going to get cut by the ATS. Yes! Tracking systems use questions and keywords to filter you out of the pool, so you may hear back within 24 hours of applying (painful) that you are not it. Your goal is to minimize these instances and to create a manageable process that maximizes your impact. Remember you cannot do and know everything, so do your best.

  • Search for current (or former) employees who work(ed) within the team or position you are interested in applying for so you have the potential of an in
  • If you find the recruiter or job poster (like on LinkedIn), reach out to them so they have you in mind as you apply
  • Ask them questions about the place, engage them about their work, and who knows - you might get a referral out of it
  • Do your research about the company, and if you find work from that team even better! You can bring it up to the person you are reaching out to. This sounds like another duh moment, but it requires perseverance so a lot of us don’t do it consistently
  • Write unique cover letters. The best advice I ever got is to write a letter you would want to read - in your voice, not the telemarketer version of you that would work for a televangelist or the authentic self tech voice (sigh). Nobody wants to meet that you. They want to meet THE you!

Jennifer Lewis getting her dance on while watching a RuPaul's Drag Race lip sync

Ask for Feedback Proactively

I have had the privilege of two interviews (I know, 12 whole months - but networking flipped the switch) with data practitioners for roles I applied in. One of the questions I made sure to ask each one of them about growth opportunities based on their glance. These questions were suggested to me by the lovely Sally Lait who helped me retouch my resume and encouraged my growth while job hunting.

  • what is something I can improve on?
  • what is the biggest concern you have from anything I said/you saw on my application?
  • why would you not hire me at this time?
  • do you have any feedback for me as a learner moving forward in this field?

Update: Minutes after I posted this on Twitter, Sally had shared it and I saw that she just wrote a post TODAY about questions to ask at an interview!!!
Here you go - a link to more questions :heart:

And on that note, about interview preparation…

Invest in Your Voice

Pretty please with sugar on top, practice your interviews before you have them. Find a person who can ask you practice questions (behavioural, situational, or technical). Even practice stumbling and asking for clarification - something we all fear. I recently asked if I can pick up a notebook because the SQL question was not going to write itself telekinetically from my forehead. If you don’t know, say it. Confidently. The practice is for you to get comfortable - not only with your strengths, but also with weaker points and how to navigate that.

And one more thing that was once again, courtesy of a Twitter friend (these are real) who helped me practice for interviews; use the STAR method. Managers know it exists, and it would be nice for you to flex on them. Manager person, I know you know this. I want you to know that I know that you know this too!

Phoebe from Friends explaining how she knows that they know that she knows. A mess

Network for the Sake of It

This bears repeating (ahem, previous blog post). Networking is everything. It is scary, but what do you have to lose? Every interaction is an opportunity to connect with someone. It is not even about whether or not they can get you a job or help you find one. Think of yourself as a resource. You probably have more to offer than you think - it does not have to be financial or career-defining. Answer a question, talk about sports (if you like them, also hellooooo :smile: sports fan over here), share a job posting or an apprenticeship that makes you think of someone. We are all just a bigger version of ants with an awareness that makes us feel more important than we probably are. So really, just BE. Your people will find you, and you will grow together. Whether or not there is a job in there, it doesn’t matter.

Also, people are kind. I have gotten to go to talks, learned interviewing skills and tips, been exposed to employment and internship opportunities, gotten encouragement - you name it! None of that would have happened if my introverted self had not ventured into the good side of online interactions.

Try Everything (when you can)

This one is a hard one to do for several reasons. You might get the opportunity to work with someone who cannot pay you but on a great mission, or make a presentation at a PyLadies event (it was fun!), or an unpaid internship. Some of these opportunities may only be cousins of what you want to do for your career - consider taking them. I say consider because time and resources are not the same for all of us. One week was spent doing literature review for a cohort of professors in Masachussetts. The beginning of summer was spent helping create a dataflow for the launch of the Black Women’s Business Collective with Zanade Mann who is doing tremendous work lifting up Black women’s businesses. It was not how this year was envisioned, but now I have great connections from these odd jobs that always check in and send a kind thought. All of this to say, if you can handle a part time income while trying to get into the data/tech industry, consider showcasing and growing your skills with these alternatives.

One thing I’m always reminded of by the people I encounter is that in tech, the first job is the hardest to land. So hang in there, friends. One day, someone will say yes to us and we will never look back. Also, let me leave you with perhaps the most profound thing anyone has said to me this year. See the encounter below, courtesy of Kei Gowda

Until next time, happy one year job search anniversary to me!

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.