8 Finding your future

So you’ve successfully debugged your future, see chapter 7. How can find an interesting job? How can use your CV, covering letter and any other communication to persuade employers to invite you to an interview? What techniques exist and how can you use your networks to help you? Where can you look? 🔭

Coding your future is all very well, but how do you actually get a job? This chapter looks at job searching and networking. Yes but… sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 8.1: Coding your future is all very well, but how do you actually get a job? This chapter looks at job searching and networking. Yes but… sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

8.1 What you will learn

At the end of this chapter you will be able to:

  • Formulate job search strategies, by role, by sector, time, size and location
  • Identify opportunities for finding work, online and face-to-face
  • Identify people in your existing networks who can help you
  • Grow your networks and use them to your advantage
  • Apply your search strategies to advertised (and unadvertised) opportunities
  • Evaluate what employers have on offer
  • Describe some of the problems with recruitment, both for employers and yourself

8.2 Where can you for look for jobs?

The marketplace for job searching and job hunting advice is incredibly crowded. Employers spend huge amounts of money on recruitment and this is reflected in the enormous range of job websites, which are often accompanied by advice on job hunting. There are three kinds of places you can look for jobs:

  1. Undergraduate and graduate jobs boards, such as Gradcracker 8.2.1
  2. General jobs boards, such as Google jobs see section 8.2.2
  3. Portfolio style, such as LinkedIn and Github etc, see 8.2.2
  4. The jobs portal of your University, see 8.2.1

8.2.1 Student and graduate specific resources

The following job finding resources are specifically aimed at undergraduate students and graduates:

8.2.2 More general resources

The following job finding tools are aimed at a wider audience (not just students and graduates) but will be useful to you nonetheless.

Keywords like job and intern in an ordinary google search will trigger Google’s job search product, an enhanced search feature that aggregates listings from many different jobs boards. See the text below for examples. CC BY-SA picture of the Googleplex in California by The Pancake of Heaven via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3X4t adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 8.2: Keywords like job and intern in an ordinary google search will trigger Google’s job search product, an enhanced search feature that aggregates listings from many different jobs boards. See the text below for examples. CC BY-SA picture of the Googleplex in California by The Pancake of Heaven via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3X4t adapted using the Wikipedia app

Google job search shown in figure 8.2 is a good starting point. It doesn’t index every job listings site, see Google’s job hunting service comes to UK (Kelion 2018), but its a pretty good place to start.

Linkedin is a social media service which allows employers to advertise job vacancies online and candidates like you to apply for them. Social media caveats aside (see section 3.6), LinkedIn can be useful tool for networking with other professionals and finding a job, see table 7.1. Image via Wikimedia Commons adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 8.3: Linkedin is a social media service which allows employers to advertise job vacancies online and candidates like you to apply for them. Social media caveats aside (see section 3.6), LinkedIn can be useful tool for networking with other professionals and finding a job, see table 7.1. Image via Wikimedia Commons adapted using the Wikipedia app

8.2.3 Recruiters

Recruiters can help you find work and they operate in every industry sector. They are sometimes called “head-hunters,” and there are two basic kinds that can help you:

  1. Recruiters employed directly by an employer, for example in the human resources (HR) department of a given organisation.
  2. Recruiters who are self-employed or work for a recruitment agency. They typically earn money from the number of interview candidates and successful hires they provide for their clients.

Recruiters are usually not technical people, so don’t expect them to have lots of knowledge about software engineering (for example) - that isn’t usually their skill set. Although recruiters can help you, it is worth being wary of recruiters as shown in figure 8.4, especially if they work for an agency rather than being directly employed by the organisation you are interested in.

The autocomplete algorithm of a well known search engine gives you an idea of what some people think about some recruiters. This doesn’t mean you should avoid recruiters completely, just be careful how you use them and pay attention to who they work for.

Figure 8.4: The autocomplete algorithm of a well known search engine gives you an idea of what some people think about some recruiters. This doesn’t mean you should avoid recruiters completely, just be careful how you use them and pay attention to who they work for.

Some recruiters are very good and can help you. For example, there are some recruitment agencies that specialise in helping employers recruit graduates, these may be useful to you. However some recruiters are not very good, and don’t provide a valued service for employers or potential employees like you. This is why you sometimes see no recruiters or no agencies on job adverts. So be wary of recruiters, and remember that some recruiters work primarily for their clients (employers) not you.

In most cases you shouldn’t have to pay recruiters up front but job scammers will sometimes pose as recruiters so beware. Talking of job scammers, there’s some things you need to be wary of when you are job hunting:

8.3 Buyer beware

When you’re looking for job you’re acting as both a buyer and a seller.

  1. SELLING: You’re selling your services in a marketplace, for the best price you can get
  2. BUYING: You’re buying into the culture and values of an employer (see section 9.5), who are trying to sell themselves to you.

As a buyer and seller, you should be wary of the following:

  • Job scammers: section 8.3.1
  • Over-specified jobs: section 8.3.2
  • Unpaid internships: section 8.3.3
  • Overselling: section 8.3.4
  • Underselling: section 8.3.5
  • Rejection: section 8.3.7
  • The rollercoaster: section 8.3.8 🎢

8.3.1 Beware of the job scammers

Most job adverts are legitimate but you are vulnerable when you are job hunting. You may become more vulnerable over time if you are getting repeated rejections (remember: repeated rejection is quite normal). Unfortunately there are some shady characters out there looking to exploit your vulnerability through various kinds of employment fraud. (Hinds 2017) You should be wary of anyone asking you for:

  • Money up front - be very suspicious
  • Excessive personal data such birth dates, passport numbers and bank details. These could be used for identity theft, fraud or other criminal activities
  • See for example google.com/search?q=job+scams

Reputable employers (and jobs boards) will not try to scam you, but you should beware of job scammers if you find yourself looking for employment off the beaten track.

8.3.2 Beware of over-specified jobs

Employers and recruiters routinely over-specify job descriptions. A good example of this is, when the Swift programming language was released in 2014 at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in California, job adverts instantly appeared asking for programmers with 5 years experience in Swift! How can anyone have five years experience in a programming language that’s only just been made public?! Aside from the people who developed the language, like Chris Lattner, the recruiters and employers must have had a long search trying to find their candidate. It must have taken them at least five years!

The moral of this Apple story above is, if you don’t meet all the criteria in a job specification, that shouldn’t stop you applying. Most job specifications are over-specified as wishful employers dream up their ideal candidate.8 Many employers will over state their requirements in the hope they get their dream candidate. You might look at the job description and think, I’ve only got 70% of what they’re asking for, so I won’t bother applying. The reality is, if you’ve got 60% of what they are asking for, you should definitely apply. It’s unlikely that anyone will meet 100% of the job requirements.

If you see things on job adverts you don’t understand or are not sure about, go and find out about them. There’s a good chance it will be similar to something you already know about, or can self-educate yourself to fill any gaps.

8.3.3 Beware of unpaid internships

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to employ people without paying them a salary. However, there are exceptions which can allow employers to take on unpaid interns depending on how they classify their employment status. See for example:

In science, technology and engineering, unpaid internships are much less common than in other sectors as demand for skilled engineers and scientists is generally high. Some employers, particularly startups, may offer company equity (such as shares) as an alternative to a salary - again you should be wary of this. Unless you’re very lucky, the chances are those shares will probably be worthless. Like many people, I don’t endorse unpaid internships, and I recommend you avoid them completely. They are a form of modern slavery.

8.3.4 Beware of overselling

When people try to sell you something, you will naturally be wary of overselling and fake news, see figure 8.5.

Beware of false or misleading information in the jobs marketplace. Pool tables and free snacks are nice but are what is it actually like to work for a given employer? Are employers really as good as they say they are? Are you as good as you say you are? Or is it fake news? Overselling sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 8.5: Beware of false or misleading information in the jobs marketplace. Pool tables and free snacks are nice but are what is it actually like to work for a given employer? Are employers really as good as they say they are? Are you as good as you say you are? Or is it fake news? Overselling sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

There’s two kinds of fake news that are common in the jobs marketplace:

  1. Employers overselling themselves. Recruitment can be a bit of a beauty contest, with everyone trying to show you their best side. Some employers may make promises they can’t deliver but a quick look on sites like glassdoor.com will help you evaluate employers. Even better, talk directly with actual employees of the organisation, both current and former. Is their employer really as good as they say they are?
  2. You exaggerate your achievements: It can be tempting to oversell yourself in the marketplace. An experienced reader or interviewer will be able to spot your fake news and find you out, see chapter 7 debugging your future

So beware of fake news and overselling. Don’t believe the hype. (Ridenhour et al. 1988)

8.3.5 Beware of underselling

Likewise, you should make sure you don’t undersell yourself. Know your value (financial), know your values (see chapter are 2) and try to understand how that fits with a given employer. What are the employers stated values? On the financial side, it is easy to find out about salaries, for example see:

Salaries in the UK for interns (and graduates) range from minimum wage to £50k and over, with everything in between. So beware of under-selling yourself, know your value. Some employers see students as a form of cheap labour that can be exploited because you’re not “qualified” until you graduate. I’d think twice before working for such an employer, computing skills are in demand and there are plenty of other employers who will treat you with more respect.

8.3.6 Beware of the time sink

Finding employers that you are interested in and submitting high quality job applications takes time. Many students under estimate the time needed to job hunt. It can be a very time consuming process for everyone, both employers and candidates alike, see figure 8.6.

Playing the game of job hunting can be a big drain on your time and some time wasting is unfortunately inevitable. Employers will waste some of your valuable time and you’ll probably waste some of theirs too. Beware of the recruitment time sink. Public domain image of a DualShock PlayStation controller by Evan Amos on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3VFp adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 8.6: Playing the game of job hunting can be a big drain on your time and some time wasting is unfortunately inevitable. Employers will waste some of your valuable time and you’ll probably waste some of theirs too. Beware of the recruitment time sink. Public domain image of a DualShock PlayStation controller by Evan Amos on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3VFp adapted using the Wikipedia app

Even after you have managed to:

  1. Identify and articulate your skills and knowledge, see chapter 2
  2. Understand what you’re interested in, see chapter 2
  3. Update your CV, see chapter 7
  4. Consider all your options, see chapter 9
  5. Target employers or sectors of interest

.. the actual business of applying described in this chapter can be very bureaucratic. Any interviews you have will take time to prepare for (see chapter 10) and you’ve got loads of other calls on your time like studying and having a social life.

One way to tackle this problem is to schedule some time every week when you work on applications, see chapter 19. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that finding a job will be time consuming. Beware of the time sink.

8.3.7 Beware of rejection

For most people, rejection is a normal part of applying for jobs. Rejection can take a heavy toll on your mental health described in chapter 3 and it is usually a struggle. Some employers won’t even bother to reply to reject you, welcome to the employer black hole described in section 7.2 and shown in figure 8.7.

Rejection is a normal part of applying for jobs, some of your applications may disappear without trace into employers “black holes,” especially if they are large and have a strong gravitational force on job applicants like you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother applying, but that you need to think about how to make your application stand out. CC-BY image of the supermassive black hole in Messier 87 created using the CHIRP algorithm by the Event Horizon Telescope team via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3RCa

Figure 8.7: Rejection is a normal part of applying for jobs, some of your applications may disappear without trace into employers “black holes,” especially if they are large and have a strong gravitational force on job applicants like you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother applying, but that you need to think about how to make your application stand out. CC-BY image of the supermassive black hole in Messier 87 created using the CHIRP algorithm by the Event Horizon Telescope team via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3RCa

If you’re getting too many rejections or all your applications are sucked into black holes, it might be because you need to :

  • debug your CV and job applications some more (see chapter 7)
  • develop a better job search strategy (see this chapter, chapter 8)
  • broaden your job search (see chapter 9)
  • pay attention to your mental health, rejections can make you anxious and depressed (see chapter 3)

So beware of rejection, it’s a normal part of job hunting.

8.3.8 Beware of the rollercoaster

There are highs and lows in job hunting, you will ride the job search rollercoaster shown in figure 8.8. There will be highs, you’ll be invited to interviews, but there will be also be lows too, such as the inevitable rejections we discussed in the previous section 8.3.7. It will be a rollercoaster, which ends on the high of a job offer you accept. Fasten your seatbelt, enjoy the ride and good luck with your applications and interviews! ☘️

Are you ready to ride the emotional rollercoaster of job hunting? A tech project is like… sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 8.8: Are you ready to ride the emotional rollercoaster of job hunting? A tech project is like… sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

So beware of the rollercoaster, it has ups and down. Before we move on to talk about broadening your options, lets looks at some basic job search strategies you can use to get started.

8.4 Job search strategies

Now that you are aware of some pitfalls you need to think about developing a range of different strategies for job hunting, and change the strategy during the year. At the beginning of the academic year in September you might target large multinational organisations. If you’re not successful, you could switch to smaller employers later in the academic year. Table 8.1 summarises some of the when and where some employers typically advertise.

Table 8.1: The practicalities of applying for vacancies, internships, placements, graduate jobs and schemes in large multinational employers and small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs)
Large employers SMEs
Where Advertise broadly Less likely to advertise on big jobs boards
When Vacancies open earlier in the academic year Vacancies tend to open later in the academic year
How Typically multistage applications, several rounds of interviews Typically shorter application and interview processes
Who Typically receive high volume of applications per vacancy Typically receive lower volume of applications per vacancy
Process Unlikely to consider speculative applications May consider speculative or informal applications

Armed with knowledge of when to apply you can start to target employers. What will your strategy be? Should you optimise the quantity of your applications or the quality, see figure 8.9?

As you target employers, what will your strategy be? At one extreme you could optimise the quantity of your applications, aiming to do as many as you can. This is shown in the left of the picture by the blunderbuss (or scattergun) strategy. You make lots of applications but don’t target or tailor them much in the hope that some will hit the target if you point your weapon the right general direction. At the other extreme you could emphasise the quality of your applications by spending more time researching the employer and carefully aiming your shots more like a sniper would (in the right of the figure). Which strategy is best? Blunderbuss sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 8.9: As you target employers, what will your strategy be? At one extreme you could optimise the quantity of your applications, aiming to do as many as you can. This is shown in the left of the picture by the blunderbuss (or scattergun) strategy. You make lots of applications but don’t target or tailor them much in the hope that some will hit the target if you point your weapon the right general direction. At the other extreme you could emphasise the quality of your applications by spending more time researching the employer and carefully aiming your shots more like a sniper would (in the right of the figure). Which strategy is best? Blunderbuss sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 8.9 shows two extreme approaches to job hunting, in reality you’ll probably want to strike a balance between quality and quantity. If you find yourself:

  • Making a small number of applications, you may need to consider applying more widely and spending less time on each application
  • Making a large number of applications, you may need to consider applying less and spending more time on each application

8.5 Breakpoints

Let’s pause here. Insert a breakpoint in your code and slowly step through it so we can examine the current values of your variables and parameters.

* PAUSE ⏸️
  • What are your current job search strategies?
  • How could they be improved or tuned?
  • How many jobs should you apply for?
  • Why is it important to build your network?
  • How can recruiters help you?
  • Why do recruiters have a bad reputation?
  • How long does it take to apply for a job?
  • Should I optimise for quality or quantity of job applications?
  • How can you deal with the inevitable rejections that come during job hunting?
* RESUME ▶️

8.6 The power of weak ties

Your close network probably won’t change that much, the friends and family you trust and rely on. Its important to recognise the importance of more casual acquaintances, or what sociologist Mark Granovetter calls “weak ties.” (Granovetter 1973)

It’s not what you know, its who you know. Networking and personal contacts can be more useful than just knowledge and skills alone, when seeking employment. Networking is an essential part of any job search, your networks can help you now and in the future. One of the things looked at in this chapter is how to build and use your networks to help find the job you’re after. The simplest networking technique is bumping into people, but you need create opportunities for that to happen. Bumped into sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 8.10: It’s not what you know, its who you know. Networking and personal contacts can be more useful than just knowledge and skills alone, when seeking employment. Networking is an essential part of any job search, your networks can help you now and in the future. One of the things looked at in this chapter is how to build and use your networks to help find the job you’re after. The simplest networking technique is bumping into people, but you need create opportunities for that to happen. Bumped into sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Weak ties are people you don’t know as well, but are important for a range of reasons. Research has shown that building networks of weak ties is good for your mental health and can give you an edge in job hunting. (Leslie 2020) Granovetter showed that many job opportunities came through weak ties, rather than strong ones. This is true not just of jobs early on in your career (like now) but also later too. So it is in your interests to continually foster weak connections and be open to serendipitous meetings where you bump into people, as in Figure 8.10. “Bumping into” here, could mean either physical or virtual.

Who is in your network? Grow and use your network, both the strong ties and the weak ties. Weak ties are often the most important when it comes to job hunting. Networks sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 8.11: Who is in your network? Grow and use your network, both the strong ties and the weak ties. Weak ties are often the most important when it comes to job hunting. Networks sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

8.7 Summarising search

Too long, didn’t read (TL;DR)? Here’s a summary:

We’ve looked at search techniques that will help you find opportunities you care about. Figuring out what you want to do is tricky at times but it usually works out well in the end.

This chapter is under construction because I’m using agile book development methods, see figure 8.12.

Just like the Death Star, this galactic superweapon chapter is under construction. Image of agile weapon engineering in Star Wars via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/32PB adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 8.12: Just like the Death Star, this galactic superweapon chapter is under construction. Image of agile weapon engineering in Star Wars via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/32PB adapted using the Wikipedia app