The Geek Girl’s Guide to Job Search Survival
Recently, I made a change in my professional life. After working as a freelance copywriter and editor for nine years, I decided I needed a break from unpredictable workloads, feast-or-famine bank statements, and marketing myself as much as I marketed my clients. Job hunting, especially in a field where there are plenty of workers and not nearly as many jobs, can be a soul-sucking experience, so I wanted to share some tips and tricks that got me through it.
Tip #1: Rally your support team.
Job hunting is one of the most demoralizing experiences of all time. It’s telling people over and over who you are and what you can do and getting back either complete radio silence or rejection until you want to crawl into a hole and never come out. Want to know how many times I made it past multiple phone and in-person interviews to become one of the final two or three candidates for a job, only to passed over for the spot? Three.
That stuff eats at you. Which is why you need people who have your back. People who know you’re job-hunting and who will support you in whatever way fits you best—some people want their team to check in with them regularly; some people want their team to hold them accountable for the number of jobs they apply to each week; some people just want a team who knows what’s up and who will be there when they need to vent. Whatever your needs, find a couple people in your life and ask them to have your back through this experience. Share your hopes, concerns, and whatever else is on your mind and invite them to help your job hunt in whatever way is most comfortable for you and them.
Tip #2: Find your communities.
It can be frustrating, but when it comes to job hunting, who you know is often at least as important as what you know. For those of us on the quieter, more introverted side of the social spectrum, this can be extremely discouraging. However, connections come in many different forms.
For me, I found the ad for the job I eventually landed through a job-listing subgroup of a Facebook group created specifically for women writers. The woman who put up the listing offered to answer any questions anyone had about the position. I messaged her about it, we chatted for a bit about what the office environment was like and what I was looking for in a job. When the company reached out to begin the interview process with me, the woman I had messaged was one of my interviewers. She came into the interview with a more holistic knowledge of who I was and whether or not I’d be a good fit for the team.
So, find communities that work for you. Whether that’s Facebook groups tailored to your career and needs, MeetUps with other job hunters in your area, friends-of-friends who work in your field and would let you take them out for coffee and pick their brain a bit, or something completely different, get your foot in the door on your terms and in a way that maybe pushes you a bit without being overwhelming.
Tip #3: Know your skills and how to phrase them.
This is evergreen advice for a reason. Even when you have the skills companies are looking for, if you don’t phrase them correctly, hiring managers will be less likely to see that you’re the candidate of their dreams. Every time you turn in an application—even if it’s your tenth of the day and you hit the wall three applications ago—take the time to go through the listing line by line and tweak the phrasing of both your resume and your cover letter to match. Then walk away from your computer for as long as you can before you come back and proofread everything one more time. Seriously—I can’t tell you how many times I looked back over a sent cover letter to discover I had made some sort of flub that undermined my “attention to detail” value prop.
Tip #4: Don’t fit all of the job requirements? Apply anyway.
This applies to everyone, but it applies doubly to women, because we have a habit of underestimating our skills and underselling our abilities. In fact, according to a Hewlett Packard internal report, women tend to apply only to jobs they are 100% qualified for, while men tend to apply to jobs they are only 60% qualified for. Sure, if the position is Senior Software Engineer and you’ve never taken a coding class, this might not be the best use of your time and energy. But if you’ve got most of the qualifications the company is seeking, and the ones you don’t have aren’t huge deal breakers, apply anyway! Depending on the additional qualifications, it might be worth looking into ways you could build those skills on your own, so you can mention in your cover letter how you’re developing your knowledge in those areas.
Tip #5: Create your interview game plan.
You landed an interview, yay! Or, oh no! if your brain works like mine does. Interviews are full of stressful unknowns that strike panic in my introverted little heart. I still don’t know the secret to completely anxiety-proofing the interview process, but here’s what’s helped me make the experience a bit less traumatic:
- Look up everything you can about how the company does interviews. Glassdoor and other company-review websites tend to have sections where people can comment about their interview experience, which can help give you some sense of what to expect.
- Look up common interview questions, write them down—along with one or two answers for each—and practice them like you’re in a school play and you landed the lead role. I’m serious. Practice saying them out loud to yourself, or grab one of your friends from Tip #1 and have them mock interview you. Try to develop answers that can be adapted to several different questions, so you’ll be ready in case they ask you something unexpected.
- Look up or come up with three to five good questions to ask your interviewers. Write these down, too, and practice them right along with your answers above. You don’t want to rock the rest of the interview and then fumble when they ask if you have any questions for them.
- Plan ahead. Know what you’re going to wear, how you’re going to get there, what you’re going to bring (a few copies of your resume and a notebook to jot down some notes and the names of your interviewers are always good), and how much time you’re going to need to arrive a bit early without feeling rushed.
- If at all possible, before going in, take about five minutes to take some slow, deep breaths and tell yourself how you’re going to rock this. It may sound cheesy, but calming your heart rate down a bit and reminding yourself of all the reasons why you deserve the job can have a huge impact on how you feel and, in turn, how you perform in the interview.
Tip #6: Everything sucks, but keep going anyway.
So, you’re multiple months and hundreds of applications into your search, and all you have to show for it are some form rejections and a fear in the back of your mind that maybe all of those rejections are right; maybe you’re not as good as you think you are and you aren’t ever going to find a job that fits your skills. This is the moment when you turn off the computer, go outside for a bit, and watch the world around you happen. Then you call up your team, and you complain to them until you feel like you can handle things again, or at least until you’re ready to do something soothing, like listen to some soft music or watch Game of Thrones reruns.
All that to say, job hunting sucks. It’s miserable and demoralizing and makes you question yourself. But it’s also an opportunity for you to own your narrative. Things won’t change unless you change them. And, yes, you are trying to get a company to buy into that change, which can feel really disempowering, but giving up is the only choice that will guarantee all of your effort is in vain. As long as you don’t do that, the only possible end of your job search is your finding a job—even if it takes a bit longer or looks a bit different than you’d originally envisioned.
I believe in you. This road is long, rage- and despair-inducing, and often involves twists and forks you won’t see coming, but you are smart and geeky and you’ve got this. I can’t wait to hear where you end up.