Updated: Mar 25

Lately I’ve been coaching a lot of people who are in job search mode- leaders in companies and individual contributors who do solid work. They are telling me it’s tough out there- companies ghosting them in the middle of the interview process, reappearing after weeks to say sorry things fell off the radar but they have no news, and generally appearing disorganized and unprofessional. I always ask what they’re doing to get into process with these companies, and time and again the answer is mostly the same- applying for jobs online, and getting very few responses and a lot of rejections.

I see this a lot, and let me just say- rejections are only rejections when a human makes contact to say they’re not the right fit. An auto-response from applicant tracking software is not a rejection- it just means it’s time to try another route.

The Other Route: Making Connections

Once upon a time, I loved going to events. Talking to people I didn’t know, putting myself out there- I look back now and am in awe of that lack of fear, that openness to talk with people, and the space I had in my life to embrace the number of events I attended. I feel differently about how to draw my energy today, and these big events with lots of people just aren’t my jam anymore. According to my Myers Briggs Type Indicator, I’m still showing a preference on the extraversion side of the continuum, but I more and more appreciate quiet time, where I can get away from the noise and recharge. When I left my full-time role and built my coaching business, at first I felt isolated, so I set a goal to have coffee with at least one person per week, so I could continue to build my network and keep up with hiring trends. This helped immensely, both with my continuous learning and also in building and strengthening connections with people.

In my work, I see a lot of people who, like me, are mentally drained or recoil at the term “Networking”. Context is everything, so allow me to clarify- when we think of networking, we usually think of those big events where there are people we don’t know, who we may or may not authentically connect with. Let’s substitute in the term “relationship building” for networking, and rebrand it as the art of connecting with people and planting seeds to learn new things, make connections, and grow personally and professionally.

Most of us feel we should be better at networking. We envision a room full of people we don’t know, and being forced to talk to people we don’t know sounds draining, useless, scary- insert your adjective of choice here. (BTW, anytime we say “should”, it’s often a signal that it’s not what we want to do but rather what we feel is expected of us. Does that make it the right thing to do?) Back to the rebrand- on the other end of making connections, there’s relationship building- this is where some real magic can happen. Anyone can practice this. This is when people bring their authentic selves to a conversation, open up, share, and are vulnerable together. Some real Brené Brown goodness. (And, she’s got a Netflix special coming out! Be still my heart!) This is where a couple of or a handful of humans come together for a more intimate conversation, share information, actively listen, and hold space for each other. This is where we help each other out and mentor each other: friendtors!

Introverts or extroverts, it matters not- as humans, we need connection. Think back- when was the last time you had a new connection in real life and built a relationship with someone outside of your day to day at work? I hope it was lately, because it can be a conduit to so many great opportunities, both personally and professional, to hear each other, share information, and grow.

Job Search & Connections = Referrals

If you haven’t had that connection with someone lately, and you’re looking to change jobs, it’s a double whammy. People who invest time in building relationships personally and professionally have an increased chance of getting connected to opportunities through their personal and professional networks. We know that around 80% of jobs aren’t even posted on job boards. How will you find out about these opportunities if they aren’t posted? People with more connections are creating opportunities for themselves, which can lead to interviews. You’re more likely to get an interview with a referral from someone you know- in fact, 40% of hires come from referrals.

Interviews

In the interview scenario, conversations with recruiters or hiring managers put us in the spotlight as we answer their questions, try hard to impress them, and wait for the next steps- information, acceptance, or the dreaded Rejection.

Ooof. Rejection. It hurts- a little part of the heart breaks with each one for most of us. We take it personally. We wonder what we did wrong, where we went wrong, what we said that was wrong. And the way recruiting has been functioning for the last several years, we usually don’t receive feedback on why we are rejected. We may continue to wonder, and sometimes Imposter Syndrome sets in. We may feel like we’re Not Enough, Not Good Enough, Not Smart Enough, Not Worthy. We may shrink from connecting with people and being social. We might make ourselves small.

In this smallness, we miss opportunities to connect. We miss the ability to demonstrate our curiosity, to share what we are good at, to share what our gifts are. This is actually the right time to lean on our relationships and get support from our tribe- they want to see us succeed and may have a new strategy to suggest to get closer to that new job.

On the other hand, interviews are an opportunity to connect, be our authentic selves, and make an impression. Maybe the job we interviewed for isn’t right for us, or the company promoted someone internally. Remember that 80% of jobs aren’t posted- maybe we’ll be offered one of those instead. This happens more often than you’d think. In fact, it’s happened to me a few different times.

Deepak Chopra & Our Gifts

People: we all have gifts. We are good at things. We might even have built up expertise that’s valuable to others- you likely have done this! Part of my work is helping people identify their talents and gifts, their areas of expertise, their strengths. I know everyone has these. Do you know what yours talents and gifts are? Recently I listened to Deepak Chopra on Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations and was touched by what he had to say about discovering our gifts- time flies when we are using them. I especially enjoyed this article, “Self-Worth- 5 Ways to Identify Your Unique Gifts”.

If you have been building relationships and making personal connections, as great leaders are likely doing, go to your tribe and ask them what your gifts or talents are. Then listen to what they say, absorb the information, and recharge yourself. Because, if you make yourself small, if you don’t build relationships with people, your gifts may go unused. How will your potential new employer even find you and your talent if you aren’t talking to people and putting yourself out there? Try this when you reach out for connection: "I'm looking at ways to get better and wondering if you had any recommendations,” or "Wow, the flow of our last project was great, what do you think made us work well together?"

Moral of the Career Development Story

Connecting with people is important, not just because it’s human nature, but because it can open us up to opportunities, provide the warmth and community that we are craving, and give us a new perspective on forging forward if we’ve been feeling stuck. Introvert, extravert- it doesn’t matter where we get our energy from or how shy we feel. There are ways to connect in a medium that feels right to each of us. A coach can help you identify how to most effectively tell our career story and identify our strengths and talents when building these connections and executing on a job search.

If you identify as a woman and you're looking to kick your career up a notch and grow as a communicator, manager, or thought leader, join me for a Career Lab to build your communication and leadership skills.

For more career development information, follow me on Twitter @aboutworkstuff.

Things are feeling a bit off at work. Maybe you’re bored, seeking more challenge. Maybe you smell some transition about to happen and your spidey sense is telling you it’s time to move on.

Change my job?! What do I do now?

Whatever the issue, you’re thinking about making a change. You’ve been in your role for a few years, maybe more, and technical interviews these days seem downright intimidating. How do you even prepare? What exactly do you need to know? You can’t really remember the last time you had an actual technical interview. Your hearts starts beating out of your chest just thinking about talking to a recruiter who doesn’t even understand what you do each day and justifying why you’re worth interviewing.

Alright. That’s it. Now I’m panicking!

Notice a theme here? This person feels out of control. They don’t know what’s happening at work, they don’t know how to manage a job search because it’s not something the average person is really well-versed in, and then there’s this piece of the interview puzzle that feels like they are being graded but at the same time, it also feels like a class they passed 10 years ago. What the heck….

Just breathe.

It’s time to regain control. Take a breath. Let’s cover Career Planning 101, and start by creating some time to think about important questions like, what do you want next in your career? Why are you making a change now? How would you answer the question, “Tell me about yourself?”

Hiring managers and recruiters can smell BS, so don’t waste their time or yours by not being prepared with these basics. If it’s a been a while since you pondered these simple yet deep life questions, The book Designing Your Life (Bill Burnett and Dave Evans) has amazing visualization exercises to get you started off on the right foot. Take some time to think, write, and gain some clarity for yourself. As a career coach, I help people with these questions by creating space to build a roadmap together so that they can understand their Why. People who can easily articulate their skills, interests, strengths, and values tend to find more career satisfaction. A good coach can help hold you accountable for for the goals you create together, give you a pep talk when you need one, and provide you with resources and information to empower you to take on this process and all of its unknowns.

When you’ve got a good grasp on the nuts and bolts of your story and your job search plan is in place, you’ve freed up the mental bandwidth you were focusing on the Big Scary Unknown, and can now use that valuable resource you have in your brain to prepare for the technical interview.

Go the extra mile. Image Credit: www.boredpanda.com

The Butterfly Effect- little tweaks lead to big changes.

How can you get started? Make it manageable. The great news is, there are some super helpful tools out there to support you along the way. Know what you’re dealing with by visiting InterviewCake.com and reading up on some coding interview tips. If you feel like you’re ready to hit the ground running, try one interview on interviewing.io, the anonymous technical interview platform that allows you to practice with other engineers, and if you’re both pleased with the initial interview, you can go for the big reveal and disclose who you are and take the interview to the next step in real life. Regardless of whether that first interview moves into an actual interview process at a company, you’ll get feedback on what you’re doing well, and what you need to spend time further developing in your interview approach, whether it’s technical or behavioral in nature. Iterate.

Don’t neglect behavioral interview preparation- EQ is important!

Balancing technical interview preparation with behavioral interview preparation is important. A 2011 Career Builder Survey of over 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals revealed that 71% value emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ. For those of you who are closer to the mid or senior level of your engineering career, this same survey showed that 75% of responders said they were more likely to promote an employee who was highly emotionally intelligent. And to really drive home that EQ is key, 59% who participated in that survey also claimed they’d pass up a candidate who has high IQ but low emotional intelligence.

The behavioral portion really is key, so don’t neglect preparing for all aspects of your upcoming interviews. The Muse has some great sample questions to prepare. I suggest thinking about your major career accomplishments over the last few years- what challenging situations have you overcome? How have you resolved a situation with someone you didn’t necessarily agree with? You should be able to tell these stories concisely, confidently, and with appropriate eye contact.

Ready, aim, fire- you’ve got this.

Don’t spend too much time preparing without getting some practice. My best advice in evaluating feedback on your technical interview performance or how you speak to your skills and experience is to consider the source and the advice- is what you’re hearing an outlier, or a trend? Maybe that engineer who interviewed you was having a bad day, or it was their first interview ever that they conducted. Maybe they’re super optimistic and should have been a little harder on you. The old term “practice makes perfect” doesn't have to be trivial. Be data-driven, track your interview processes and feedback, and then you’ll know more about how much effort to put into each specific area of your job search. Good luck!

Updated: Oct 8, 2018

Over the last several years of working with people in career transition, and especially with women in tech, I’ve observed that when we’re not happy in our career or when we’re unemployed, we humans often lack feelings of empowerment. Imposter syndrome may creep in, that quiet voice in the background whispering that someone will find out we’re a fraud. Even the most confident people may wonder- am I really good enough? Are my skills relevant? What will happen next in my career?

To combat these feelings, as a career strategist I work with people to create a plan building self-awareness of skills, values, and strengths. Together, we put together goals, and an accountability plan. By building self-awareness in these areas, it’s much easier to effectively tell our story and helps others we speak with understand who we are, what we do, and what our goals are. After all, if we’re not sure what our areas of expertise or our strengths are, how will we ever convince that hiring manager we’re the right one for the job?

Recently I read an article about genuine confidence, and it resonated with me- it is one of the reasons why Carol and I started Empowered Tech, a meetup to help women connect with other women in tech, to learn how to use their voice to gain power and establish their professional identity in tech, and share solutions and resources about challenges in the workplace. The strong, smart women we’ve met at our past meetups are problem solvers, leaders in their organizations, demonstrate curiosity to build their self-awareness, and are ambitious to take their careers to the next level. Speaking of smart, strong women, props to these writers and tech professionals who helped empower other women by sharing resources and information:

If you missed Diversity Activist Ellen Pao’s interview on Daily Show this week, she talked about the sexism she experienced in Silicon Valley that led her to file a gender discrimination lawsuit against her employer in 2012. This quote in particular is relevant to empowerment. She describes, “…not being included in meetings, not being included in conversations, not being included in email threads…and a lot of the work was around understanding the information flow- what’s happening, where the interesting opportunities are, building these relationships…” As women in tech, we need to build the relationships, and be aware of the the information to get to where the opportunities are. Which companies are inclusive, who promotes women, who sees us and hears us? How can we be better communicators, support each other, and achieve our goals?

I hope you’ll join us at a future meetup. Technology leaders, project managers, recruiters, software engineers, product managers, marketing folks, customer success managers- if you work in tech and you identify as female, you’re all welcome to come build your network of other ambitious, empowered women in the tech industry.