Hacking the Tech Job Search Process

Recently, out of curiosity, I decided to drop by the Toronto Startup Job Fair not so long ago hosted at MaRS. There I saw an impressive showing of folks who were ready and willing to put themselves out there to work at a tech company in Toronto.

While impressed, I was equally dismayed at the purely transactional nature of the event. Really short conversations, exchange of cards, pamphlets and hard copy resumes. You’re in and out, under 2 minutes.

You couldn’t even get a good understanding of the company because not because of just the noise (literally and figuratively, it was really LOUD in there), but the volume of people hiring companies had to deal with let alone remember. If you’re going to a job fair, I guess that’s what to be expected.

I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t want to be just another name attached to a list of skills, attributes and experience that might fit into said hiring company. It’s nuts. Insane. Homey don’t play that game.

While there are other “job fair-like” events such as Techvibes very own Techfest that makes the whole process a lot more interesting and fun by making companies reverse pitch you to work at their companies along with serving up delicious food. However, these should augment your job search – it doesn’t just start and end there.

How do you avoid all that lining up nonsense and cutthroat competition?

Put in the work first. Before everyone else.

What do I mean exactly? I mean by proactively reaching out and understanding roles that you want to eventually land. What’s the laundry list of things you should know? Maybe you could take out a few folks who work at that company you’re interested in to ask them what it’s like to work there. What kind of culture will you ultimately thrive in? And by culture, I don’t mean getting to play foozeball, catered dinners/lunches, video games or ping pong to decompress for a bit at work.

You’re doing yourself a disservice to yourself and the employers who want to employ people with your unique skill set, but without you putting forth the effort to differentiate yourself from the sea of other candidates who may be just as good as you, you’re drowned out by the noise. Rise above that noise.

On average, it takes about 4 months to secure a role. Why not spread out that work over a longer period of time so you’re getting inbound interest instead of the other way around?

Other forms might be constantly learning and honing your craft like writing or learning to code or hosting meetups that scratch your own itch.

By the time you know it, you’ll a steady pipeline of people who know you, like you and understand the value you bring to the table without having to go through formal and stuffy interview processes.

Start something

It can be anything from building an app to demonstrate your technical prowess and understanding of a certain technology stack. It could be a marketing experiment or tactic that shows you creativity in terms of learning a platform and exploiting any loopholes and effectively teaching something you’ve learned.

Daryna Kulya, the main organizer at Product Hunt TO sprung herself to the forefront of the tech community by creating a meetup that’s pretty much an IRL (in real life) version of Product Hunt. She gets to meet the brightest product people and CEOs and puts her in the pole position against other candidates because she made something people want. Her last meetup of the year had over 400 attendees in a packed house at MaRS, having Product Manager from white-hot startup Slack, Simon Vallee present. Do you think her visibility and reputation has skyrocketed as a result? You betcha it did.

Maybe you don’t have the time to pour into creating a regular Meetup series or you’re not feeling like building an app on your own time. There’s always attending a hackathon or Startup Weekend to actually get your hands dirty and helping out with building something, doing user research, customer validation, effectively hacking your own experience.

Demonstrating that you have the ability to take the bull by the horns, create something, see it through to the end and ultimately shipping something consistently, is a very desirable trait that cannot be understated.

Creating a digital trail of where you’ve come from and where you’re going

Whether you’re an aspiring designer, developer, sales person or marketer, there should be no reason why you shouldn’t be cataloguing your progress. If you’re going to demonstrate competence and mastery over something, why not publicly document it. If you’re building an app, you should be posting to your own blog, Product Hunt, Github, Dribbble, social media and other “portfolio sites”.

It’s quite probable that your future employer will Google you, so why not let them find out that you’re adamant on honing your craft and constantly getting better. Make it easier for future employers to see everything you are and you’re become. Show them the progress you’ve made and the trajectory your career is on.

What employer wouldn’t want that kind of person on their team?

Make your work public

While resumes aren’t completely dead, the shift has gone towards LinkedIn, AngelList, Github, Dribbble, and various other tech hiring boards that hiring managers or persons with decision making power frequent. If you’re already blogging, consider creating long form content or reposting onto sites like LinkedIn or Medium’s platforms to get even wider distribution to cast a wider net and more exposure to your “personal brand” or better yet try to guest post on sites as well. These all go towards building your credibility and reputation as a thought leader. Again, it reinforces that you’re someone who is intelligent and is taking the time to form an opinion through the work.

While a bit of a humblebrag on my part, I had a few job offers that stemmed from a blog post on marketing automation that I wrote some time, as well as a post on growing your email list, even to this day.

Help others before you help yourself

Of all forms of activity, helping others succeed will probably put you ahead of everyone else in terms of being top of mind if a role that fits your skill set ever pops up their radar. Some forms of helping others succeed would be helping other founders or hiring managers get access to a talented candidate that you’ve vetted and know inside out. If you’re on the inside track with a friend or colleague who’s expressed some sort of dismay or is looking for a new challenge and you know a hiring manager of a company that they might be interested in, why not help the two out?

It’ll build goodwill on both sides and they’ll be more inclined to want to refer you to opportunities that match the skills you bring to the table. Over time, you do this time and time again, opportunities will bubble up effortlessly so as long as you always be good to people, even if there’s nothing in it for you.

Of course get permission from your friend/acquaintance to make an intro (double opt-in intro) before you do this. If you’ve truly helped someone above and beyond the call of duty, I assure you, they won’t forget it, and they’ll want to have your back as well.

While certainly not a new or novel concept, I have the mindset that I want to be the most genuinely helpful person in the tech scene in Toronto. Whether it’s the truth or not, doesn’t matter as I’m sure there are plenty others who are plenty more connected and more awesome than I, but it’s the intent and thought that rings cloud and clear in people’s’ minds when you help them. If you adopt a similar mindset, they’ll inevitably want to help you in some way or form or fashion. And even if it doesn’t happen, that’s okay as well, because it’s in the spirit of altruism and good karma.

Making it all work.

Ultimately, you’ll need to use all that grey matter gifted to you between your ears and make sense of it all to land an awesome role. Some of the points above are things I’ve learned and discovered along the way. But of course, you’ll have to be intelligent about how you go about your tech job search and create relationships with the long run in mind, rather than being a mindless lemming, lining up for a chance to get a job. You’re not a lemming, and tech startups don’t want lemmings. You’re better and smarter than that.

If you’re doing any of the above and more, by the time you know it, you’ll a steady pipeline of people who know you, like you and understand the value you bring to the table without having to go through formal and stuffy interview processes.

How have you hacked your job search process? Would love to know in the comments!