How To Get Hired as a Software Developer During a Tech Recession
February 10, 2023
Get a job? In this economy?
Who needs doom-scrolling when there’s layoffs.fyi? The startup fastidiously sources the latest layoff statistics while providing resources for recruiters looking to hire recently laid-off talent. With new entries each day, layoffs.fyi is a stark reminder that tech layoffs didn’t disappear with the new year.
Call it what you want. A tech recession, the next bubble burst, or the product of copy-cat corporate mismanagement – that’s all semantics. Lay-offs are happening and many in the tech space are faced with the harsh reality that their jobs aren't as recession-proof as they used to be.
We asked Codewarriors on Twitter and LinkedIn, and while the results varied slightly, the sentiment stays the same. Software development isn't as recession-proof as we all thought.
For veterans of the tech industry, massive layoffs are par for the course. This time around, layoffs were sparked by a mix of factors. Consumer habits drastically changed during the height of the pandemic. Confined to homes, we heavily (and out of necessity) increased reliance on our devices for everything from school and work to connection and entertainment. This meant all gas no breaks for the tech industry. To support the demand for software platforms and general expansion, hiring continued to grow, in retrospect, at an unsustainable level. But soon enough, Zoom hangs turned to park hangs, and, slowly, life regained some semblance of normalcy again, rendering "growth" hires a threat to companies' bottom lines. Other economic factors of course are at play. War, inflation, changing interest rates, and a looming general recession are causing executives to make tough choices to protect profits.
How to get hired in a tech recession
Layoffs in tech signal a shift in hiring practices, but that's not to say getting hired is impossible. Getting a job as a software engineer in a tech recession is well within your reach. It just takes a bit of strategy. Here are 7 things to consider when looking for programming jobs amidst a tech recession.
Take an inventory
As the ancient greeks said, "Know thyself."
Don't underestimate the power of understanding yourself. The steps to achieving your career goals are intimately intertwined with what you discover during an inventory of yourself. This needn't be a clinical questionnaire. More simply, it's an opportunity for you to reflect on past experiences, what you want, the skills you have, the areas you'd like to improve, dreams for the future, and things that could impede you.
Whether you're entering the job market for the first time, switching careers, or looking for a new position post-layoff, you'll need to take an honest look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Essentially, run a personal SWOT analysis. In business, a SWOT analysis is a tool used for strategic planning. It can just as easily be applied to your professional goals.
To do this, set a clear goal to strive for, then reflect on yourself and your environment. Not sure what this looks like in practice? Here are some sample questions to help you get started.
Goal: Land a job during a tech recession
In what areas do I perform highly?
What are my natural skills?
What skills have I honed over time?
What work-related habits hold me back?
Are there any areas in that other candidates outperform me?
Have I ever received feedback detailing potential areas for improvement?
What are job outlooks when comparing industries?
Are there need areas (like artificial intelligence or security) that will be hiring regardless of the economy?
Is this a good time, financially, to further my education and pick up emerging skills in my industry? Can I do this for free?
What industries are showing the largest restrictions?
What is the biggest threat to my goal of getting hired in a recession?
What will happen to me (and my family, if applicable) if it takes longer than average to find a job?
A SWOT analysis can be even more granular, too. For example, if your specific goal is to find a job as a data security engineer at a specific company, focus on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related directly to that goal. Guiding questions could look like this:
What strengths do I possess that make me a good fit for this role?
What weaknesses do I have that may result in getting passed over for the job?
What opportunities, like references or referrals with current employees, do I have?
What threats, like a hiring freeze, could affect me?
As hiring slows in the tech sector, companies are becoming more shrewd when considering candidates. The demand for tech talent is shrinking while the supply is steadily growing. Considering a higher saturation of job-seeking developers, what is the best way, then, to stand out in a sea of talented candidates? The answer: upskill.
To upskill means to improve a specific skill through practice, education, or any kind of focused growth. By upskilling, you're actively working on skills and traits that distinguish you from other candidates. There's no right way to upskill. It's whatever works for you! Some choose to go back to school or take online courses or coding classes, while others do personal projects for hands-on experience. If you want to practice some of the technical skills you're working on, try training on coding challenges.
For this approach to be the most effective, be strategic about what you choose to work towards. Improvement takes time, and often money, so pick a skill that directly serves your goal. Look over your SWOT analysis again. While "weaknesses" carries a negative connotation, it's an area ripe for improvement. Do any of your weaknesses barrier employment? That may be a good place to start upskilling.
Upskill soft and hard skills
Keep in mind that tech companies' hiring strategies have changed. If money is going to be spent on hiring, it's only going to be spent on the most vital roles. Typically, demand is much higher for managerial and senior positions rather than entry-level.
Managers are valued more than entry-level positions because companies are trying to get the highest value output from their dollar. Instead of building out large teams that require extra time and resources to train, hiring a handful of managers is often more efficient.
When thinking about upskilling, it's natural to focus on the technical. Technical skills are easy to assess and have well-documented steps for advancement. Yes, strong technical skills are important, but if senior roles are the highest hiring priority, technical skills alone aren't enough. Senior roles require a host of managerial skills on top of sharp technical skills.
Here's a list of in-demand senior engineer managerial skills to develop to better your chances of getting hired.
Think for a moment about who is in your network. IRL, this could look like family, friends, former colleagues, current colleagues, teachers, professors, neighbors, and so on. You've spent time building those relationships, garnering social equity and trust with them. The same can be done online through social media or other community platforms. Think about groups and individuals you've connected with via the internet. Those people are part of your network, too.
Now comes the hard part: leveraging your network. Networking is a skill that feels very natural to some and very unnatural to others. If it doesn't come naturally to you, don't dismiss its importance. A majority of job openings (75%) aren't publicly advertised and a staggering 85% of positions are filled because of networking.
The first step in networking, and maybe the hardest, is speaking up. In the same way that you won't get an answer unless you ask a question, your network won't know you're looking for a job if you don't tell them.
This can be as simple as updating your LinkedIn profile to 'Open to Work'. Although, a more lasting and meaningful impression would be writing a thoughtful post detailing your current situation. Vulnerability is fairly new to the professional scene. Pioneered by millennials and driven by gen Z, the landscape is changing to value feelings and experiences more and more.
Admittedly, there's a level of cringe associated with 'oversharing' online. However, practicing vulnerability (with boundaries) in professional contexts increases trust and displays authenticity and honesty. It's a way to build up relationships with connections you may not know IRL.
When writing an #OpenToWork post on LinkedIn, keep these content guidelines in mind.
Your "Whys": Explain why you're looking for a new position and detail why you would be an asset at another company. Divulging why you're looking for a job can be a sensitive subject, and bad-mouthing a former employer is never a good look. You don't need to provide extensive detail. A general statement of "lay-offs", "exploring other interests", or "looking for new growth opportunities" suffices. Keep it light and positive.
Proofread: Take the same care with writing this post as you would with writing your resume. While unfair, snap judgments are often made based on grammar. You don't need to be Hemmingway, just run your post through Grammarly first.
Summarize Skills: Think of this post as a streamlined, punchy version of your resume. It's a great place to list skills you have and talk up recent projects you're proud of completing.
Authenticity: Don't be afraid to show off your personality! Being human and authentic will get you far.
CTA: Like all messaging strategies, your post would be incomplete without a call-to-action. Let your network know how they can help you. "Does your company have an amazing opening? Let's connect!" "If you come across an exciting listing, shoot me a message!"
Explore Different Industries
Tech industries taking the biggest hits due to the looming recession deal in communications and B2C. Why? Digital communication and workplace collaboration platforms boomed during the lockdown. Now, not so much. More and more companies are implementing RTO protocol, weakening the dependence on virtual collaboration. Plus, a common trend in times of recession is that B2C businesses suffer the most due to less incoming capital from customers.
Big Tech, specifically, is cleaning house after trends of massive hiring sprees. Other industries, however, are chomping at the bit for talent that Big Tech discarded.
Not all tech talent choose to pursue a career in Big Tech, but many do. The prestige is undeniable. With an exodus of layoffs ordered by the former promised land, sectors like Finance, Agriculture, and Advanced Manufacturing finally have access to talent that eluded them. Talent they desperately need.
The specific industries may fluctuate at times, but software development will always be needed. A study by management consulting firm Bain and Company found that 90% of business leaders ranked development and deployment of software as a top strategic priority. See, there's still hope.
If you're interested in switching industries, an informational interview would be a productive first step. An informational interview with someone in a new industry can shed light on inside trends, job satisfaction, projected growth opportunities, general advice, and more.
Let's face it. At the end of the day, there are bills to be paid, and while tech layoffs are felt across company sizes, not everyone will get that Big Tech severance package. More people, including those making 6 figures, are living paycheck to paycheck. With current projections for the job search sitting at 3-6 months, you may need something to tie you over.
Income aside, freelancing looks excellent on a resume, especially if you're experiencing an employment gap. It shows future employers that you have gumption and have no issue taking ownership of projects. Plus, it's an awesome way to get real-world experience in areas you're upskilling.
Before you begin, understand that freelancing requires discipline, proactivity, and business savvy to be successful. Be prepared for inconsistent pay depending on project availability and the number of hours dedicated to your client search. The luxuries of a consistent pay schedule are gone, along with the clear(ish) boundaries of work life and home life.
Another thing to keep in mind, you'll be working directly with clients - no more PMs to act as a go-between. This may change the way you communicate your skills and "sell yourself".
For example, let's say a small business is looking for a web developer to create a website. It's fair to assume that the small business owner knows very little about coding. That's why they're looking for help. It can be intimidating and frustrating to review potential developers if their bios, websites, or portfolios are written in coding jargon. They simply want to know who can solve their problem without googling every word. This is why, as a freelancer, it's important to keep your language "user-friendly" and solutions-oriented. Cutting through the noise will go far with potential clients.
You can go about freelancing in a few different ways. There are plenty of third-party services (Fiverr, Upwork) that connect freelancers with clients. These sites take a fee, cutting into your total earnings; however, they relieve some of the guesswork of networking and finding clients. Another option that requires a bit more work is client prospecting and cold-emailing. A tried and true example is looking within your neighborhood. Can you identify any businesses that need a website, design improvement, or consulting? This route requires more effort on the backend but gives more control when setting a price for your services.
Give Your Credentials a Facelift
The importance of polished credentials isn't a surprise. These pieces, if done correctly, position you to win your desired role. If done incorrectly, you risk your application landing in the rejection pile. The pieces all correlate with how much earning potential you have. A well-written, professional resume has the power to increase wages anywhere from 7% to 32%.
Review what your materials look like and give them a refresher. Resumes, portfolios, and references are some of the strongest, most influential tools to have at the ready. Make sure you have the following in your arsenal:
Updated resume: While tedious, it's beneficial to tailor each resume you submit specifically to the job description. Gergely Orosz (The Pragmatic Engineer) describes how to formulate a great resume in this article.
Well-rounded portfolio: Many hiring managers won’t even consider an applicant who has no software engineer portfolio. Why? The applicant is making a baseless claim. By applying for a job with no qualifying proof that the applicant can carry out the position’s responsibilities, the applicant is essentially saying, “Yeah, I can do this! But I’m not going to prove it. You’ll just have to take my word for it.” That won’t work.
Strong references: Companies do referral programs because, generally, they get better hires through these programs. They've found these applicants are good culture fits, they know more about the company, and, if hired, tend to stay at the company longer than non-referred applicants. Think about your network, and identify 2-3 names that would speak on your behalf.
Comprehensive LinkedIn: Often overlooked and underestimated, LinkedIn profiles are directly related to your odds of getting a job. Applicants' chances of scoring an interview rise 71% when they have a detailed and up-to-date profile.
Thoughtful Github: Make sure that your repositories are organized and readable and that your profile is memorable. A good first step is creating descriptive, clear README files. Otherwise, your projects won't have enough context. Plus, this is a great way to show that you know how to communicate purpose, goals, and thought processes.
Join a Talent Network
There's no denying that the job search is draining. Instead of spending hours pouring over job postings and filling out repetitive applications, try leveraging a talent network. Talent networks are designed to take the pain from job searching by matching candidates and employers for the best fit.
Take Andela for example. Andela's talent network specializes in matching applicants seeking remote work to actively hiring companies. Upon joining their network, Andela does the tireless work of the job hunt for you. They take your professional profile and connect you with a company that checks all your boxes. Working with innovative companies has never been more accessible.
Additionally, joining a talent network means you're casting a wide net, especially if the network specializes in remote work. Candidates looking for remote work have more opportunities and the power to control their days. Hired's 2022 State of Software Engineers report shows that when open to remote work, job-seeking software engineers received 20% more interviews than those who aren't.
During a tech recession, the odds are already stacked against you. Being open to remote work and having access to top companies through a talent network only increases your chances of getting hired.
Getting a job in this economy can be a daunting and seemingly impossible task. However, with the right strategies, it is still possible to land a job in tech as a software developer. Utilizing a SWOT analysis to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, upskilling, networking, exploring different industries, freelancing, refreshing your credentials, and joining a talent network are all helpful tools to increase your chances of getting hired during the current tech recession.
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Feeling inspired to start coding? Check out some kata that have been hand selected based on this article.
Your non-profit company has assigned you the task of calculating some simple statistics on donations. You have an array of integers, representing various amounts of donations your company has been given. In particular, you're interested in the median value for donations.
The median is the middle number of a sorted list of numbers. If the list is of even length, the 2 middle values are averaged.
Write a function that takes an array of integers as an argument and returns the median of those integers.