TL;DR: If you don’t want a job, don’t even bother! Duh!
Earlier this year — before writing my first post Year Zero, in which I publicly lay out my intent to become a solo product maker — I spent a few months looking for a remote tech support job. Last Friday marked the definitive conclusion of that job hunt, so I wanted to write up a summary of my experience hunting.
What I learned is that you’ve really got to pursue whole-heartedly what you want, to the detriment of everything else. There’s really no point in half-arsing anything in life. If you want something, be prepared to pay the cost and go all the way to get it. Or not at all.
Why tech support?
To go a step further, skills that I once possessed; like a deep theoretical knowledge of data structures, complexity and the like, have atrophied. So I’m literally not as good as I used to be.
Plus, I’ve been doing support work in the film industry. That’s given me a lot of experience I can credibly claim is relevant to tech support. So if I can blend my support experience with my tech background, that will keep me engaged for the foreseeable future. That was my mindset going in to the job hunt.
Go all the way
Actually, it’s the wrong mindset. Approaching your job hunt as if it’s second place, as if you’re looking for a temporary band-aid while you try to make it as an indiehacker is not the right way.
Applying for a job that doesn’t live up to your potential makes employers rightly suspicious. If it’s a decent job, they’re going to make a significant investment in you and it’s only natural they would expect the same in return. Go after what you want instead.
A part of me thought that by applying for a support job, I’d be able to bypass the obligatory whiteboard interviews and dumb geometry or data structure puzzles that accompany a typical tech job. I was apathetic. And completely wrong, as it turns out!
Remote job boards
I hung out at remote job boards: Remote OK and especially Jobspresso became my favorites. I selectively applied for jobs that looked interesting and had potential for both learning and fun on the job. I carefully and arduously targeted my application materials to each firm. Companies to which I applied include Hotjar, GitHub (twice), Flywheel, Elastic and others.
I’m utterly confident that I would be successful at all the jobs I applied to. Status or money are not especially high on my list of priorities. Instead, I was focused on a medium-sized company with a useful product, and a humane, personal touch.
Realization #1: you are not alone
Remote OK gets a million hits per month. Applying to a job on Piet’s board? You’re not alone. An executive at one company confessed that he’d received 650 applications. If competition’s that stiff, there’s going to be a lot of randomness, noise, and personal bias that’s going to end up driving the final decision-making. It’s a messed up combo of qualifications, competency and plain old-fashioned fucking luck.
Excellent candidates are rejected for any number of reasons. Perhaps you went to a state school. Or you didn’t. Perhaps you’re too serious. Or too social. You do your best, but there’ll be elements outside of your control. It’s a bit of a crapshoot.
For those who want a job, be glad with these prospects. Your probability for a job, albeit small, is non-zero!
Eventually, the odds will side in your favor and you’ll get a job. No doubt about it. But if that’s not what you really want, and actually in your heart of hearts you want to be a free bird, the grind of job-hunting is going to get you down and you may give up early.
That’s what I did.
Realization #2: the recruitment funnel
Of my applications, only one — Elastic — rejected me outright. All the others subjected me to their horrible hiring funnel.
When you apply, you enter a recruitment funnel. There’s plenty of apps like Greenhouse and Recruitee that recruiters use to filter as many applicants as they can muster. Like watching a sausage being made — it’s mostly garbage in, garbage out.
For recruiters, a disadvantage of job boards is that although they will increase visibility, you’ll get many more candidates that don’t necessarily have an affinity for your company. Just about every job interview I had started with the basic query —
“Why did you apply to us?”
The massive disadvantage of job boards is that you’ll have a lot less candidates with a genuine answer to that question. Most candidates will just be playing their part in the recruitment ritual.
If you ask questions that candidates expect to be asked, don’t be surprised to receive the cliche answers you’d expect to receive.
In time, I realized that the recruitment process was less about measuring an applicant’s competencies as it was their degree of motivation, stamina, patience, and their sheer will to have the job.
Let me recap my recruitment trajectory with GitHub, for example.
- Applied for job; required essays worth of questions answered.
- Passed initial screening, more obligatory questions.
- Rejection email.
- Reapplied to another support job using the same material.
- Passed initial screening, answered more obligatory questions.
- One hour webcam interview at midnight (recruiter in NZ).
- One hour test answering support tickets via shared screen.
- Six hour interview with multiple team members. Topics include remote work, diversity, and other non-sense.
- Rejection email.
Complete time from first submission until final rejection: 9th August until 28th September. Remind yourself: this isn’t even for a dev job. Yet all in all, GitHub wasn’t even the worst experience.
GitHub required many essays of questions answered. Hotjar demanded I explain Chrome dev tools on camera. Others demanded puzzles, coding portfolios and endless references.
Eventually, I just couldn’t be bothered.
I don’t feel old, but my attitude has matured. Before, I’d bend over backwards to fit the mold of what a recruiter wanted. Now, perhaps in part due to my apathy, I’m much more WYSIWYG.
I simply don’t give a damn, my dear.
Pretty content with myself, I’m not going to change much for an employer. I like the way I am. If you like me, great — we’re going to have a beautiful relationship. Otherwise, better get rid of me sooner rather than later so we can both get on with our lives.
What bothered me was the extent that political correctness has corroded any shred of sincerity in the process. Examples —
- Every company is pro inclusion and diversity. Massive lie. Two extremes: either they don’t care whatsoever, or white men are not welcome. In case it wasn’t obvious, I prefer the former.
- You invest days interviewing for one company and they send you home with a generic rejection email and a no-feedback policy (see above). An utter waste of time for both parties.
- Companies screen you on topics irrelevant to the job, filtering all the terrible applicants collected by their recruitment funnel.
The perfect job interview
Two months after giving up, I got an email asking if I was still interested in applying to a company I’d never heard back from. Since it’s ongoing, I’ll leave them anonymous for now.
“Sure. I’m happy to meet.”
The beauty about getting a response so late after applying is that it really takes the pressure off, since I’d mentally filed that job under the “rejected” column, along with the rest.
First interview was no-nonsense. A ten minute hello followed by geometry problems and pseudocode algorithms. To the point. Got the impression the job was more demanding (interesting) than simply answering support emails.
The recruiter was swift to respond. Next round. Interviews were planned promptly with 5 other members of support staff. All task oriented: writing response emails, more pseudocode, and general technical troubleshooting skills. It felt like they were challenging me on topics they actually cared about. Rare and refreshing.
The tasks were not ridiculously difficult (ask me about my quant interview at Goldman Sachs a few years ago). The people I met seemed cool. I liked them, they liked me. Next meeting was with the COO, and we hit it off, followed by the CEO last Friday.
The waiting game
Now I’m in limbo. Unlike the COO who gave me reason to be optimistic, the CEO kept his hand close. Difficult to read, either one way or the other. But suddenly the tempo has slowed down.
Decision won’t be made until January. What carried me early during the interviews — that subconscious vibe of not caring what happens either way — wore off during the last two interviews. Meeting the CEO, I was genuinely a little nervous.
As you get further into the negotiation, you can’t help emotionally investing more of yourself. I’m much more keen on the outcome now than when I started with this company a few weeks ago.
Getting a job offer now would be a curious proposition. Would I take it? Two months ago: definitely, without a doubt, yes.
And now? Probably, yes. But not unequivocally.
If offered, I’d request another interview. This time, for me to interview them and clear up my legitimate concerns. E.g., why did it take them 2 months to get in touch? What does the future of the company look like with the newly installed CEO? Etc.
It’s your life — there’s no reason you can’t be a discerning, as an employee or otherwise. They’ll respect you for it. All I know is that for the foreseeable future, that was my final job interview. Hurray!
Jobs aren’t necessarily all bad, nor are they all good. Be aware of your options and be judicious in your selection.
No more job applications for me, it’s solopreneurship and digital products from this point forward. Wish me luck!
A few tips that came from my experiences interviewing:
- Avoid emotionally investing in an outcome. You’ll still be you, whether you get it or not. Sometimes I caught myself nervous about a job I didn’t even want.
- They’re funneling you. You funnel them. Have lots of plates spinning simultaneously. Will also help with the point above.
- Avoid job boards, search deeper, find competitors and go for the under-advertised vacancies on company websites.
- In tech, be prepared for a long slog and slow decisions. Three months minimum. Six months (from scratch) is more realistic.
- Don’t throw away old shoes. Keep your old job, old lover, etc. Throw out the old only when you’ve got something new.
I’ll let you know how I get on. Thoughts on recruiting? Hit me on Twitter. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
January Update: Had seven interviews, including with the CEO, didn’t get the job. What the fuck.
December 24, 2017, @mcknco