I've spent a lot of time chronicling my experience with the job search, and because of that, I've gotten my fair share of people asking me for advice on job searching. I will always say that I'm the worst person to give anyone advice about anything ever (for a variety of reasons), but with the current economic climate and many people unexpectedly job searching, I wanted to offer some thoughts based on my recent job search experience. This is by no means a comprehensive list of advice, just a few things I felt were important in my job search and some things I wish I had done differently.
Networking Isn't For Everyone
Many people will tell you that networking is the best way to get a job. While that's not bad advice, it's advice that doesn't take into account individual needs and comfort level. If you're comfortable reaching out to your network for help in connecting with new opportunities, then do it. That's a great way to hear about new opportunities and get your foot in the door at companies. Some companies prefer to hire candidates that are referred by current employees, and using your network to get referrals can open up a lot of opportunities.
But not everyone feels comfortable with networking for referrals and leads. I don't feel comfortable reaching out to others about positions in their company (unless we've had a previous conversation about it) because I don't know if it's an imposition or if I'd be putting them in a difficult position (for example, if they're already referring someone else for the position and therefore can't refer me). For a long time, I felt like this was a failure on my part and was hurting my chances of getting a good job. But the truth is, different people have different comfort levels with various parts of the job searching process, and just because you're not comfortable with something, that doesn't mean you're wrong.
If networking is a struggle for you, decide whether it's something you want to work on or something that just won't be a major part of your job search. If you want to work on your networking skills, that's amazing, but if not, there are still a lot of opportunities out there for you. I found my current job online and didn't know anyone at the company before I started working here. I am proof that you can get a great job even if you're not comfortable with networking.
Know When To Walk Away
One of the things I struggled with a lot in my job search process was stopping the interview process when a job just wasn't the right fit. I went in with a mentality of "everything is worth a try", and that led to me wasting my time (and sometimes the company's time) interviewing for jobs that just weren't a good fit, either on a culture level or on a technical skill level.
This particularly applies to the technical challenge portion of the software engineering interview. The technical challenge is a way for the company to see if the applicant has the technical knowledge/skills they are looking for, but it's also a way for the applicant to assess the technical expectations of the company. If the challenge seems completely out of sync with what you're looking for or your current capabilities (or even the job description as you understood it), it's okay to reach out to the company and let them know that you no longer want to continue your candidacy for the position (giving them an explanation as to why is always a great idea to keep the pipeline open for the future, and thanking them for their time is an absolute must).
This is a lesson I learned the hard way. There were a few interview processes where I dedicated a lot of time and effort towards completing technical challenges (which I didn't always complete) that I knew early on were above my current skill level. I wish I had felt confident enough in my assessment of the challenges to bow out before investing so much time (and a lot of frustration) in challenges where I knew I wouldn't be moving forward in the process. I like to think that I've learned my lesson from these experiences, and I'm hoping that in future job searches I can more confidently walk away from technical challenges that don't feel like a good fit for me.
Have An Answer BEFORE The Offer
Hear me out, because I know this is weird: when writing up my notes after an onsite interview, I always decide whether or not I will accept the job, should it be offered to me. Sometimes the answer is that I'm not sure or it would depend on the offer, and that's fine, but I like to at least have an idea of what it would take for me to say yes. Part of this is practical - when an offer comes, the company usually would like an answer within a particular timeframe and having an idea what your answer might be (and what you want to negotiate) can help speed up the decision process. I also find knowing my gut feeling about the company and the interview process - without having any time to doubt myself or overthink things - gives me a lot of insight as to whether the job would be a good fit. I never limit myself to my initial thought - and I have in the past changed my mind about a job - but I find that having a starting point helps me organize my thoughts.
Another thing to consider after an interview is whether you would be interested in a different job at the company. This is something I never thought about until it happened. I went through the interview process with a great company, I enjoyed the interview process, and I felt like I connected with everyone, but they didn't think I had enough knowledge and experience for the position I had interviewed for ... so they offered a more junior position in a different part of the company. I was shocked by the offer and took too long to make a decision. While I believe that taking that position would not have been the right move for me, I did learn from this experience to consider the company and the position separately so that I would have a better idea of what to say should the situation arise again.
Trust Yourself Above All Others
This is the big one. Throughout your job search, you'll get a lot of advice and input from friends, family, colleagues, former colleagues, former classmates, random strangers, etc. Listen to that advice. Process it. But then be okay with forgetting it. Only you know what is best for you, and while it helps to get insight from others, only you can determine what advice will serve you.
Everyone's job search is different. My last job search was long and incredibly stressful, but it's hard for me to say that I regret anything about that job search because I'm happy with where I ended up. I made some decisions along the way that I might make differently next time around, but the great thing about life is that you usually get a chance to learn from your mistakes and missteps. Sometimes the best way to learn what works is to do what doesn't work first. Which is why I hate giving advice. I'm always happy to share my thoughts, but the only advice I can give job seekers is to trust yourself above all others - only you know what's best for you.