Finding a job without a specialty

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Mid-Level Software Engineer at Ex-Google11 days ago

A quick TL;DR of my career, I started off at Lockheed Martin doing Linux C++ and Java development with a bit of SRE work building out Jenkins+Docker CI/CD infrastructure for my team. I then went to do frontend web development on Google Cloud. However, after around eight months, I wasn't too confident on my trajectory within the team, so I moved over to a team outside of Cloud. In this role, I did Android development with some C++ backend work mixed in. Looking at my background, I've worn several hats and more or less had multiple different roles during my ~4 year career.

This is all because I care more about the end result of my work instead of the work itself. The language, tech stack, etc that I am using is not what gives me fulfillment. Unfortunately, it seems like I'm getting punished for this mindset, as every employer wants someone who has been using the same stack their whole career. It's not surprising given how recruiters and anyone in the hiring process is seeking to find any reason to say "No" to you. They have become adversaries that one has to take down, since passing Google's hiring bar now no longer carries weight. Each interview I fail to pass just appears to perpetuate a narrative that I was nothing more than a COVID overhire and deserved to be laid off.

Is there a gainful role out there for me, or am I going to just have to settle for some dead-end job that will just drag these career woes on?

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(5 comments)
  • Melissa
    Mid/Senior Software Engineer
    10 days ago

    I'm in a similar situation. I'm actively looking looking for full-stack roles, even though most of my professional experience has been backend-heavy. Here's what has been helpful to me:

    • Although there are many positions that are strict about a particular stack, there are a surprising number of companies that are more interested in your problem-solving skills and general coding ability, knowing that if you do well in these interviews, you'll probably pick up their tech stack pretty quickly. I'm not sure how many companies you've talked to, but I promise there are a lot of them out there.
    • Referrals, referrals, referrals! Networking has always been important in the job search, but if someone you know personally vouches for you, it'll help get your foot in the door much easier even if the tech stacks don't exactly align.
    • Slightly controversial, but I'd highly recommend making a Summary section in your resume to make it clear what you're looking for. Normally this isn't necessary if you're looking to do more of what you've already done in the past, but it's essential if your prior experience doesn't reflect what you want in your next role. Just make sure you state what you're looking for, and have examples (likely through personal projects) to back it up.

    All that being said, the tech job landscape right now is ROUGH, regardless of how long you've been in the field or what your specialty is (if any). The truth of the matter is, in the current market there are way fewer available jobs, and a lot more qualified candidates (thanks to layoffs). The competition is just way harder now than it used to be.

    Although there are some things you can control in this situation (like providing clarity of what you're looking for in your resume, getting referrals instead of cold applying online, etc), a lot of the rejection that you (and me, and everyone else looking for a job in tech right now) are experiencing is a result of unfortunate market forces that are out of our control. And that really, really sucks.

    Basically, although it's essential to have an idea of what you're looking for in your next job, know that things will be hard for a while, regardless of whether you have a specialty (well, unless it's super niche). Hope this helps, and best of luck in your job search!

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  • Mid-Level Software Engineer
    Mid-Level Software Engineer [OP]
    Ex-Google
    9 days ago

    I've heard of various reports saying a lot of people who get laid off tend to find new roles quickly, but it's been four months for me. At this point, I wonder if people like us are going to have to settle for likely sub-par roles just to get by. Avoid anything like sign-on bonuses or relocation that would make it more difficult to hop, and then hope something more gainful comes down the line. The only issue there is the longer it takes, the more damaging it is to your career since most of these positions either don't pay enough or don't give you meaningful opportunities.

    Furthermore, how exactly do you get real referrals? Most of the time it's just a referral link. This ultimately is just a cold apply with an employee's name attached to it, so it doesn't actually mean anything.

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  • Alex Chiou
    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 days ago

    All of the following are unfortunately true:

    • Recruiters and hiring panels often have 0 idea what they're doing
    • You can be quite qualified for a job and still not get the offer as there was someone more qualified in the loop
    • This economy right now is extremely terrible, so the above 2 points are going to be amplified as companies have far more leverage than candidates in the current situation

    I totally get that you're not feeling the best right now and you 100% deserve to feel that way. Getting laid off sucks. Trying to land a job in this economy sucks. But you can't stay in this mental state forever. Take some time to relax, reflect, and unwind. Just enjoy life for at least a couple weeks and pretend all the BS that is the tech industry doesn't exist. In order to succeed in tech, we all need to learn how to bounce back - This space is chock full of highs and lows.

    We cover this all more in our video here: [Masterclass] How To Survive Tech Industry Layoffs

    They have become adversaries that one has to take down...

    Don't mistake incompetence for malice. "Incompetence" is probably too strong a word as well - More like "misfiring"? I genuinely believe that most people, especially at reputable tech companies, at least have good intent. Recruiters want to hire good people. But it's tricky for them to do that as they aren't technical and now they're being completely swamped with candidates - It's hard to spend >5 seconds on any application. Recruiting is a very hard job and they are trying their best. They're not out to get you.

    Each interview I fail to pass just appears to perpetuate a narrative that I was nothing more than a COVID overhire and deserved to be laid off.

    Look, you worked for Google. Google is arguably the most legendary tech company of all time. I worked at Meta, and we respect Google so much that we copy-pasted 90% of what Google does into our own engineering culture. You are a very good engineer - Don't let any random recruiter or hiring company tell you otherwise.

    The good news is that you decided to join the Taro community. Whatever you want to do, whether it's diving deeper into tactics like getting quality referrals or just having someone to vent to, just let us know. We're here to help!

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  • Alex Chiou
    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 days ago

    I've heard of various reports saying a lot of people who get laid off tend to find new roles quickly, but it's been four months for me.

    The people who share that are creating a survivorship bias. If they're on places like Blind and Reddit, there's a good chance they're outright lying. They're a tiny minority of the laid-off population. Most laid-off engineers I know are at 3+ months without a new job - This is the norm now.

    Furthermore, how exactly do you get real referrals?

    By adding value to others and building genuinely deep connections. We talk about this more in detail here: "How to get referrals?"

    1 Like
  • Casey Dai
    Principal Director at Capgemini
    7 days ago

    I've navigated through some variation of this problem my entire career as being perceived as a "hyper generalist". A lot of it is trial and error to see what sticks and not being afraid to change your approach completely if needed. Like others have mentioned, I completely agree that the tech recruitment and talent evaluation process has many flaws and mostly boils down to "pattern matching" (i.e. did they solve X problem, using Y tool, as a Z title/seniority before). Build into your expectations that this problem is worse than usual since conversative hiring kicks in during a down economy. However, don't linger on this too long since it's an external factor that you have limited influence on.

    Here's a few things that helped me navigate this problem through each pivotal point in my career.

    • Reframe the evaluation from "do I have XYZ credentials" to "I can help solve the problems you're facing". Prioritize companies and hiring managers that are less proceduralist and bureaucratic since they will lean towards the former vs. the latter by default (generally speaking, smaller companies favor the latter). During a actual interview, nudge the line of questioning away from a checklist approach if you notice that is happening (i.e. do you have X years in this, have you managed Y people, do you know Z tool), and respond with I'm able to solve X problems regardless of the tech stack, here's my approach...
    • Don't be everything to everyone. You can have multiple skills, but hyper focus on the ones that are most relevant to the person / situation in front of you. It's tempting to list out all the things you can do / have done, but it will dilute your response. For example, I have a strong Finance background pre-tech, but only bring it up if the conversation goes that direction (e.g. P&L management, budget planning for leadership roles). Be aware that some skills have negative stigmas attached to them, which actually hurts you if you focus on it too much. For example, I've seen Data Science / ML carry a negative perception with some hiring managers who had a bad experience working with data scientist that don't understand SWE principles (thereby producing a lot of bad code). If you catch onto this early enough, you can turn it into an advantage by focusing on skills such as DevOps to counteract this negative perception.
    • Networking and referrals. This is by far the best avenue to implement the suggestions in the prior two bullets prior to a "formal" interview. Dive straight into jointly solving a problem as a goal when reaching out to others. Others have covered this quite well already and there's plenty of resources on effective ways to do this, so I won't expand on it too much here.

    One final thought: keep in mind there are a lot of factors at play that have nothing to do with you in terms of the outcome of an interview. Act only on signals and feedback that can be validated and never let it question your self-worth!

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