The Struggle of Finding a Job
Landing a new job is difficult, no matter how confident or experienced you are. New developers can feel like imposters. Established developers can start confident then degrade into imposters all over again. Why does this happen?
In my experience, companies create rigorous hoops for candidates to jump through to be deemed a suitable hire. Unfortunately, you have no control over that. Companies are often more concerned with getting through all of the applications and avoiding a bad hire rather than finding a good one. This leads to a hiring process that is tough on candidates. This can make you feel like you are inadequate, are being treated unfairly, or that you won’t get a position that you want. Those feelings can get in the way of success.
When preparing to get a job as a developer there is a tendency to focus on resumes, cover letters, technical skills, and interview questions. Those aspects are important but continuously getting knocked down and getting back up is also an important skill to master. Situations in the interview process can cause negative thoughts and feelings, which then harm your behaviors.
What prompted this post were my experiences in recent interviews. Overall, it was a miserable experience. I felt inadequate and disrespected many times throughout the process. I was able to keep at it and have success by changing the thoughts I was having. During your job search, you may experience some of the same situations that I did.
- Applying and getting rejected.
- Not knowing how to prepare for an interview when each company has a different process.
- Not answering a question as well as you wanted to in an interview.
- Being asked questions on topics you are unfamiliar with but were not mentioned in the job description.
- Unfriendly interviewers setting a negative tone for the interview.
- Unprepared interviewers not explaining things well or helping in any way.
- Inexperienced interviewers reciting questions with no other discussion.
- Combative interviewers trying to expose your flaws.
- Devoting a lot of time to interviewing with a company.
- Making it to the final round of interviews, then getting rejected without any feedback.
- Impersonal interactions of receiving a technical assessment after you apply, completing it well, then getting rejected based on your resume.
- Receiving a technical assessment to complete that seems exorbitant.
- Performing poorly on a timed technical assessment.
- Receiving an algorithm or data structures question for a technical assessment or whiteboarding interview.
- Being told you are a good fit and you will be moved to the next round, then getting ghosted.
- Being told you will hear back in a few days, then getting ghosted.
- Being rejected or ghosted, then seeing the same job get re-posted on a job board.
- All of your in-progress interviews being canceled due to a pandemic hiring freeze.
As someone who is introverted and has struggled with social anxiety and depression for decades, the interview process is especially difficult for me. Putting my resume out there, having to interview, and getting rejected opens me up to judgment. Due to my history, my outward demeanor in interviews might be seen by others as disinterested or unfriendly. This does me no favors in interviews and causes a great deal of anxiety which can lead to being more withdrawn from interviewing. I have performed well in my career as a developer and I am confident in my abilities, but interviewing is so much different from the work that I do every day. I’m sharing this for anyone that may have similar struggles. It may feel like you want to give up, but there is one person that can turn it all around. It’s you. It won’t be easy and you won’t have immediate success, but keep at it and you can improve your life for the better. Hopefully, this post can help you get out there and succeed.
Mental Health Impact
When Emotions Become Problematic
Emotions are a normal part of being human. The emotions you feel might seem like basic cause and effect, an event happens then you feel a certain way. When an interviewer is rude to you, you might get angry. But what if there is another step in there that distorts the situation resulting in negative consequences for you?
Why did you get angry? The person being rude did not implant anger into your brain. Your thoughts created that anger. The thought you had might have been that people should be respectful and those that aren’t should be reprimanded. This is a faulty way of thinking and it can establish learned patterns of unhelpful behavior. An irrational thought (e.g. people should be respectful) led to unhelpful behavior (e.g. being angry and reprimanding the other person). It wasn’t the rude action of the other person that caused any of the consequences for you, it was how you reacted to the situation.
A more healthy emotion and consequence is accepting reality, even if reality is unpleasant. Other people may treat you disrespectfully, they owe you nothing, and they are no less of a human than you.
To develop healthier beliefs, you can use proven psychological methods seen in cognitive behavioral therapy or rational emotive behavior therapy to help you along.
A thought is irrational if it:
- Distorts reality.
- Lacks solid reasoning.
- Stops you from reaching your goals.
- It leads to unhealthy emotions.
- It leads to self-defeating behavior.
These are thoughts that are not grounded in reality and go beyond the situation that you experienced. They may seem rational at the time, so it is important to be aware of the different types of irrational beliefs that you may experience which are discussed in the next section.
Three Basic Irrational Beliefs
While there are many forms of irrational beliefs, I have listed three common categorizations below.
- I must be competent and receive approval from others or else I am not good enough.
- Other people should treat me fairly, as I would treat them. If they don’t, they should be punished.
- I must always get what I want. If I don’t, that’s terrible.
The first irrational thought may make us feel anxious or depressed. The second irrational thought may make us angry. The third irrational thought may cause self-pity. These three irrational beliefs may show up when you are applying to jobs and interviewing, so they are important to identify them and address them.
Addressing Irrational Thoughts
There are many situations that you might encounter during a job search that will trigger irrational thoughts, negative emotions, which may harm your behavior. How can you address these to maintain your emotional health and keep up with the search?
To turn an irrational belief into a more rational one, challenge that thought.
- Why do you need the approval of others?
- Is there a rule saying that others must treat you fairly?
- Why must you have what you want?
Usually, when trying to answer these questions about a situation, you will find that there is no reason why you must have that approval, fair treatment, or anything that you want. These are irrational expectations.
Learn From It
We all think irrationally from time to time and you cannot eliminate irrational thoughts, but the goal is to reduce how much that happens and how it impacts you.
When challenging irrational beliefs, you may learn that we cause ourselves to be upset by having inflexible beliefs. It may also reveal that the way to improve our mental health is to actively work at changing our beliefs.
Unfortunately, life isn’t always great, and following these steps will not make it great. Sometimes you have to accept things as they are.
- You are a human that has strengths and weaknesses. Despite that, you are not a lesser human being.
- Other people are not obligated to treat you fairly. Despite that, they are not a lesser human being.
- Life isn’t always to be to your liking. Despite that, it is bearable.
Look for jobs that you want to do and companies that you want to work for. Avoid rapidly applying to jobs as each application may not get the attention it needs. It could lead to your application being ignored since there was not much effort put into it. Read over the job description and the company overview to ensure it is a good fit for you.
In my job search, I found that quality over quantity yielded more success. Craft your application, resume, and cover letter for that job. The person reviewing your application may see that you put more effort into it than other candidates and reach out to you.
Look for red flags in the job description and avoid those companies. You may think that you are not in a position to be picky, but avoiding some companies will save you a lot of frustration. Some phrases are indicative of a poor hiring process or company culture.
“We require the best-of-the-best…”
- This has an arrogance to it that indicates leadership may be unpleasant or that they attract unpleasant like-minded people.
“We are an early-stage startup…”
- While not always an immediate no, ensure the company has funding and good leadership. If they do not, they may just be looking for an employee to overwork and underpay.
“We are a fast-paced startup environment…”
- Similarly to the one above, this could indicate that employees are overworked and underpaid, even though it is an established company.
The words “MUST HAVE” or “REQUIRED” used many times throughout the post.
- It may show that they are frustrated with the applications they are receiving and are inflexible about the candidates they hire.
Instead, look for things that show the company values employees and they are more likely to have a thoughtful hiring process.
- “We provide a flexible and casual work environment.”
- “We’ll provide all the resources you need to do your best work.”
- “We are a well-funded startup…”
Impersonal Requests for Technical Assessments
Some companies will send a technical assessment shortly after you applied. A person did not review your application. In these cases, the assessment is usually not testing your technical ability, it is a weed-out process to lower the number of applications they have to look at. If you perform well on the assessment and they don’t like your resume, they will reject you. To avoid this, do not take a technical assessment without talking to another human.
You can reach out to the recruiter that sent the email and ask for confirmation that you are a good fit for the position before you complete the assessment. This will mitigate some of the risk of being rejected based on your resume.
Debrief After Interviews
While the interview is fresh in your mind, review questions that you could have improved on.
- What was the question?
- What were they looking for in my response?
- How could I have better answered the question to meet what they were looking for?
When looking for improvements, remember that the interviewer is interested in finding out how you are going to help them or their company.
Avoid Social Media
This is good advice for mental health in general, but I think it especially applies to the job search. Others on social media are showing their highlight reel and you are comparing it to your entire body of work. You will see a lot of survivorship bias on social media, where others focus on what they did to succeed and overlook others that have failed. They express how it worked for them, so it should work for everyone.
You will see scenarios where developers get laid off, they make a post, then a week later they are making an announcement of exciting news coming up. You start to compare yourself to them and start to feel incompetent. They have a network of people and they leveraged it to quickly get a new position, but you do not have that.
It is tough to hear that networking and making connections is the path to a new opportunity when you have no professional network. It is a commonly repeated sentiment from others that it worked for, but I think having success through connections is more of a rare exception. I suspect most people get their jobs through job applications where they do not have an existing connection. Don’t worry if you do not have a network to reach out to, you do not need one.
Consistency is the Key
Keep applying. Set a goal to do one or two applications each day. If you submit 10 applications per week and hear back from one company, that is all you need to do. A 10% response rate will result in talking to a company each week, gaining interview experience, and feeling like you are making progress.
If you are doing that consistently for a few weeks but are not hearing back from anyone, that is a good trigger to improve your resume or search for companies that are a better fit for you.
Finding a job can be a numbers game because each company interviews differently and you cannot always be fully prepared. While you should always keep trying to improve and do better each time, sometimes you need to wait for your knowledge to match up with the questions and your comfort level to match up with the interviewers. Because of that, consistently interviewing will increase your chances of that happening.
Get Professional Help
While we all experience negative emotions and irrational thoughts, when these are ongoing for a while and start to affect your daily life, you should look to medical professionals for assistance.
Even today, there is still a stigma around getting help. I know this can be an extremely difficult step to take but you will be glad that you did.
Mental Health Professional
You can search for professionals in your area or you can look for online services. Usually, your health insurance can be used for these appointments, so check with the provider.
Some mental health providers may also offer career services. This is a good opportunity to get help with your resume, interviewing, and your mental health.
In addition to therapy sessions with a mental health professional, your primary care doctor may also be able to help you. Medications can give you much-needed assistance in helping you live a better life. Describe what you are feeling to your doctor and they will work with you to find a medication that works. It can be a bit of trial and error since everyone is different.
- Finding a job is difficult and companies do not always treat candidates well. How you respond to those situations is an important part of maintaining a healthy mental state.
- Situations can trigger irrational beliefs, which can bring us down even more. There are proven methods to challenge these that you can employ.
- Quality over quantity is important when you are applying to jobs.
- Impersonal interactions can be challenging but you can place a higher value on your time to avoid further disappointment.
- Analyze what you could improve on after each interview.
- Avoid social media as it may lead you to feeling incompetent.
- Stay consistent in your job search to continue making progress.
- If these types of situations and irrational thoughts are negatively impacting your everyday life, seek the help of medical professionals.