Applying for a job can be one of the biggest self-esteem hits you ever have to go through. The typical job search goes something like this: You search and search and search for job opening you think you are qualified for. Once you finally find a job you think you are at least a little qualified for, you start the application process. This requires that you fill out pages and pages of application forms, which essentially forces you to manually recreate your resume over and over and over again. Finally, after doing all that work, you get rejected by the company at one step of the interview processes or another.
If you are ‘actively’ looking, you are going to be ‘actively’ getting rejected. As a new developer, it gets even worse. New developers have to figure out the employment paradox: You need experience to get experience. It feels as though the deck is stacked against you when you are a new developer.
I talked about this a little in one of my other posts detailing my processes of moving from finance to software developer. I decided early on to not wait till I was “ready” and started applying pretty early on in my transition process. This meant I was rejected a lot. One of the employers brought me in for an interview proceeded to ask me some very standard and basic questions, asked no follow up questions, almost forgot to give me a chance to ask them questions and then told me they would let me know this week. As I walked out to my car, I received an email letting me know they had decided not to pursue me as a candidate for this position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the email was written before I even went in to the interview.
Despite all these rejections, I grew tremendously from this experience. Each interview helped me get ready for the next. Eventually, I received my first job offer, but I never would have made it there without all the rejections that came before. The most important part is to make sure that you make every rejection into a positive learning experience.
One thing I learned early in this process was that you cannot count on the prospective employer to give you helpful feedback. In this era, where there are two lawyers for every person, many corporations don’t allow their employees to provided specifics on why the candidate was not selected. This means that when you do get rejected, you will probably receive it in an email that says something like this: “Thank you for applying for XYZ Company. While, your experience is impressive, we decided to pursue candidates who more closely align with the job requirements. We would like to keep your resume on file and will contact you if we find a position that more closely matches your skill set.” (You know you have been rejected a lot when you can write that response from memory)
Despite this you can still learn even from a generic rejection like this. Your first gut reaction might be to think, “Well, I got another rejection email with a vague reason why, ” but instead, take the time to look up the listing that you applied for. Give yourself an honest look at why they didn’t feel you qualified and then ask, “How can I show the next employer that I am qualified.”
Maybe you feel you have the skills, but it wasn’t showcased properly. Then you know need make sure you emphasize them on your resume, portfolio, github projects and so on. If you don’t show them, they won’t know you have the skills required. On the other hand, maybe you do lack a skill or two. Focus on those skills and learn them. Build projects that showcases them. Turn the skills you lack into your strengths.
Another great time to get feedback is during the interview, especially during the technical interview. I am not recommending that you say, “So, how did I do?” at the end of the interview (Even though I did it once and I received some very helpful feedback). But the way you handle answering the questions in a technical interview can create an atmosphere for the interviewer to give you great feedback.
First of all, I would like to emphasize that you should never pretend you know something that you don’t. If you get asked a question, don’t guess and pretend you don’t know. You shouldn’t just say you don’t know either. There are a couple of things that you should every time you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to.
First, let the interviewer know that you don’t know the answer. Second, write it down so you can look more into it later. The final thing you should do is the most important thing of all. Always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask them to explain it to you. Ask the interviewer if they know of any good resources or a good project to help you learn it. You need to approach the technical interview, not as a test of knowledge, but as an opportunity to learn. One of the best things about this industry is the desire to share knowledge. I learned some really cool things during these exchanges that have helped me grow as a developer.
This interview technique has the added side benefit of showing that you are teachable person and can learn new skills in stressful situations. I can’t say it will get you a job, but one time I made the short-list of candidates for a job I was interested in. I later found out from them that the way I approached the interview pushed me over the edge to get to the next level. That said, the primary purpose of this approach is to learn and grow. If you follow this approach for any other reason other than that, you will likely come across as unauthentic. Don’t worry about anything else other than how can you become a better developer when this interview is over.
Searching for jobs can be stressful and the rejections you get can be very disheartening, but you don’t have to let it keep you down. Use these rejections as opportunities to grow and become a better developer.