Earlier this year the startup I was working for unfortunately went the way a lot of startups do and closed its doors. I found myself back on the market again, and although I’m now happily employed I wanted to write about my experience and offer some potential tips to help others finding themselves in the position I was in. There are already TONS of great resources and posts out there giving career advice and suggestions, so I wanted to try and focus on topics or aspects of topics you may not find in every article on this subject. Finally, these are only SUGGESTIONS based on my experience and may not apply to your specific situation. However, I do hope you can get a few useful tips out of my ramblings.
If you live in the US and were laid off in one way or another, whether it be like my situation or a company downsizing, I absolutely recommend you apply for unemployment insurance. It can definitely ease the stress while you’re on your next career quest with supplemental income, and it technically starts from your FIRST day of unemployment, not from the first day you signed up. Your bi-weekly payouts are calculated based on your income, however it’s definitely not an amount large enough to continue the lifestyle you had previously, so be smart about your spending and budgeting and only view unemployment insurance (UI) as temporary support to ease any financial stress.
Updating Your Resume
Obviously this is the next logic step, but really take some time to review your resume. Remember that this is almost always your introduction and first impression to potential employers, so you want to put your best foot forward. I won’t even try and suggest an exact blueprint for your resume, and I would argue there isn’t a perfect formula anyways…it really depends on you the applicant, the potential employer, and the position. I would like to list out some ideas I found useful though, trying to be as general as possible in my suggestions.
Most of the time the application page on a website will have a simple upload button for a resume document (except for those that expect you to paste everything into a series of textareas, and I hope whoever designed that atrocity steps on a Lego barefoot). Whether it’s an upload button or attaching your resume to an email, make the file name simple and to the point. I would recommend [Your Name] Resume, not just Resume or My Resume. It’s much easier for a recruiter or hiring manager to keep track of the document that way.
Turn your resume into a PDF before you send it. It may look good on your computer with a .txt, .doc, or .rtf extension, but since there are many different applications that can open these file types someone on the hiring side might open it and the formatting with be all messed up for them. Sending it as a PDF guarantees the formatting will look the same no matter who opens it.
Please only list relevant skills on your resume. By that, I mean skills either related to the job you are seeking or listing a language or framework you’ve at least spent a decent amount of time in. I know sometimes recruiters will tell you to beef up your resume with obscure things you may have touched here and there, but when I would interview engineers at my last job I would make a point to ask them about one of their listed skills not related to the job they were applying for just to verify that had actually spent some amout of time working with the listed technology.
Tailor your resume to the job requirement. By that, I do NOT mean make stuff up that matches the job listing, but perhaps you can create a list of bullet points highlighting your various skills and accomplishments. Then, based off of what the job asks for, tweak those bullet points on your resume so you look like a really good match for the job. Remember that your resume is your introduction (and unfortunately sometimes only interaction) with someone who is looking to fill that spot, so catching their eye is key.
If you’re looking to transition to another technology or platform for your next position, make sure you have something to show for it. Work on projects and sample code that shows that even if you haven’t had a professional position in said technology, you do have the experience from side projects or work done on your own time.
If you are looking for something new and different and you’ve gained the experience on your own, don’t use language like transitioning or moving into on your resume. In my experience this can deter hiring managers as they see not having an actual full-time position in that field as not having enough experience. For me, I was looking to move from full-stack and front-end engineering into mobile development. On my resume I worded it like this: Having a wide array of experience in full-stack, front-end, and mobile engineering, I would like to continue my career path in mobile development.
To showcase your work, I would recommend listing your projects and contributions somewhere online or on your personal webite. If the person looking at your resume is non-technical but looking for experience, they most likely won’t be scouring your GitHub account looking for your work. Unfortunately, even if that person is technical they probably won’t do that either, so I made it a point to consolidate my work on my About page of this blog and listing that link on my resume.
OK, that was a lot of stuff but I hope it can help you build a resume that really stands out to land the job of your dreams…or at least something that really interests you in your career prosects.
Study Your Algorithms!
I’m a bit salty about this topic, but unfortunately this is the way of the industry. Although I found it a little ridiculous that, after working at a job for over 3 years, I had to then immediately begin studying for upcoming interviews, try to view it as a learning opportunity and a chance to “polish up” your computer science fundamentals. It doesn’t matter how much work you’ve done or how impressive your resume is, companies are going to ask you to solve algorithm problems which you may not have seen since college. To add to that, you may be a bit “rusty” due to the fact that these are not problems most of us face on a daily basis, and isn’t an accurate reflection of daily work and problem solving.
No matter your view on the issue, having a good command of these computer science fundamentals is critical to your next position. Companies usually view the technical interview challenge as a “gatekeeper” to weed out candidates they don’t want to spend the time bringing on site, as they feel if you can’t solve a random algorithm they pull out of the air and put you on the spot to solve, then there’s no point moving forward.
OK, enough of the passive aggressiveness. In all fairness a good interviewer wants to use this opportunity to see how you problem solve and work with other engineers to build solutions. It is a lot of pressure, but most of the time the interviewer understands this and tries to view the technical challenge as more of a “conversation” and “working through the problem together”. Be honest if you don’t know something, and make sure you talk through your process the entire way. Even if you feel you didn’t do well, it can definitely be a learning opportunity for yourself, and many engineers conducting these interview enjoying helping you out and teaching you along the way.
There are a LOT of great resources out there, including sites like LeetCode to help you build algorithms in real time and verify the code along the way using predefined test cases. If you need to get back to basics, step back, and get familiar with the foundations again, there are some excellent books like Cracking the Coding Interview to combine both fundamental training and actual code examples.
On a happier note, the more you practice the easier it will start to become as you will start to see patterns and different variations of the same problem. All in all, most technical questions that are posed can be consolidated to only a handful of algorithms and concepts, so study hard and never stop learning! Even if you have a job or get that next position, I would encourage you to continually study and keep yourself sharp for both your daily work and future interviews.
Thanks for sticking through this giant text wall, and I hope you’ve been able to gain some good advice for landing your next gig. Again, please use your discretion in determining the best course of action for your own career path, as every engineer is different. The goal of this article is to help you brainstorm and develop a study and preparation plan for future interviews to come, and even getting a few bits and pieces from my suggestions makes me more than happy to have written it. Good luck, be encouraged, and keep on coding!