With an apparent shortage of talent and a seemingly high demand for developers in the London area, finding a new job should of been easy right? A look back at what has been at times both a joyous and demoralising experience.
This blog has been a bit quiet for the last couple of months. After a buyout and then subsequent relocation of my old company, I made the difficult decision to hand in my notice and look for a new challenge.
This time round I wanted to do things differently. Previous jobs had come from either the sheer desperation to gain financial freedom after university or through giving in to increasingly pushy recruiters. In both cases I’d been incredibly lucky. My first developer job was in a company with a culture with that had a particularly strong social aspect. This was incredibly helpful for getting myself established in London. The next job then provided me with the technical challenges I craved. Then, just as I was starting to exhaust this, the company started on a massive transformation project which bought in inspiring leadership and a culture of continuous improvement and learning. This eventually lead to my current role as line manager for a small team and with it motivation for an enormous amount of professional and personal growth.
The plan for finding a job this time round was to avoid recruiters like the plague. I’d been incredibly lucky twice and didn’t want to role the dice again.
In those care-free times before GDPR it was pretty hard to avoid recruiters. Cold calls under false pretenses to get past the front desk; emails based on CVs they’d harvested from a job site years ago; and even texts from recruiters pretending to be your mate. It was one of these recruiters that got lucky one day when cold calling my office number (still no idea how he got it) and got me my second job. These days it’s a lot quieter on the recruiter front, but I didn’t want to open this pandora’s box again.
This time I wanted to challenge myself to find a job on my own. One that matched my current career aspirations and provided the kind of culture in which I’d come to flourish in previous roles.
So, CV freshly updated, I started looking around at what jobs were on offer. The first nasty surprise came in searching for “Senior Java Developer” on traditional job sites. Reed, JobSite, Monster - they were all full of recruiter adverts. It was incredibly hard to find adverts from specific companies. Thankfully, Glassdoor is much better in this regard. With companies with high scores clearly wanting to shout about it, finding relevant roles from companies with enticing cultures was very easy. The selection wasn’t massive but there were a couple that I applied to after following their ad on Glassdoor.
Around the same time I remember hearing about Hired.com. I soon found myself half way through their incredibly easy onboarding process and decided to give it a go. Immediately a lot of “interview requests” started to come through. This felt amazing. Having 6 companies contact you straight away was incredibly exciting. A few of the companies only matched one or two of my priorties and were quickly rejected, but I followed up with all the rest. The requests didn’t stop coming though. A lot of the subsequent requests were very hit and miss. A lot of them were looking for skills in languages I hadn’t listed on my profile, were form companies that didn’t match the size or culture preferences I’d asked for, or were for a different type of role than I was looking for. With my first interview barely organised, I was now being pressured by emails and text messages from Hired to respond to all these other requests within 48 hours. It quickly got quite tiresome and at times felt like dealing with a very busy recruiter.
After the initial HR screening from the jobs I’d applied for, or been approached for via Hired, it was time for the technical tests to begin. These varied from live HackerRank challenges via Google Hangouts to take-home challenges of varying complexity. After performing badly under the pressure of my first live test, the next major frustration came from some of the take-home challenges.
Some were very good, and provided neat, domain-specific challenges that enabled me to really demonstrate my skills and provide talking points for the interview ahead. Others were more frustrating. Wildly open ended in scope, with unhelpful comments along the lines of “our engineers can provide a clean solution to this problem in under 4 hours”. Great. So people who live and breathe your domain, tooling and APIs can use them to do this challenge in 4 hours. So how long are you expecting everyone else to take? As you can probably tell I really struggled with these types of take-home challenges. Trying to fit in enough time in my schedule to complete them to a high standard proved tricky. I’d hoped I’d provided enough to talk about in interviews and allow me to demonstrate what I could of done with more time. unfortunately instead, my solutions were met with the inevitable “we’re sorry but we have stronger solutions in the pipeline right now”.
This was the low point of my job search. Even a company to which I’d been recommended to by a colleague, wouldn’t put me forward to the next stage based on my solution to their open-ended exercise.
There is a happy ending to this tale though. I was incredibly fortunate that one of the companies with the less open-ended coding exercises proved to not only offer me the kind of role and challenges I was looking for, but also appears to have the right fit of culture and has an office location that works out amazingly for my future life plans.
So if I do end up looking for a new role again, what lessons am I going to take forward? Firstly I think avoiding recruiters was a good thing. Finding roles myself and applying for them directly made me genuinely exciting about what kind of companies I could be working for. On balance I probably would use Hired.com again, but I’d be careful not to let the constant nagging the site does affect my decisions. As for the coding exercises? I’d definitely try and interview for jobs in a quieter period of my life so that I can focus on providing better solutions. I’d also take some time out beforehand to brush up on my core computer science skills, read up on the latest tech and get some practice in with some pet projects.