10 Essential Job Search Tools
The prospect of being forced to search for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic is nearly as intimidating as facing down one’s first dragon. Be it in video games, tabletop RPGs, or just as a child on the playground, nothing else can quite match the awe and terror that these winged beasts strike in the consciousness of mortal men… As a confessed nerd, I’ve had quite a few dragon encounters in my day; I’ve walked away with the most success from these encounters when well-prepared and equipped for them - while magic potions, spells, and armor might have suited my fantasy counterpart, they would likely turn off potential employers. In this case, my quest for employment needs a different toolkit - I’ve taken a moment to outline my top 10 items below, along with a short explanation for each.
1. Wireless Earbuds
Easily taking the number one spot, my wireless earbuds have been used for hours a day during this job search. I use them to block out the noise of the world while working, especially via listening to music. Additionally important in the job searching process is the ability to take calls hands-free, allowing for note-taking. With many interviews and information coming in every day it’s important to keep track of all the details, I wouldn’t be able to do that with a phone in one hand.
Given that the pandemic prevents me from visiting offices, taking connections out of coffee, and conducting interviews face-to-face a high-quality webcam has become an essential tool for any job-seeker. Presenting a professional view of oneself on video with a neutral background, some form of light, and at least a 720p webcam is an important way to show potential employers that you’re taking the job search process seriously and will likely yield better results in the long run than trying to get by with a sub-par videoconferencing setup. At the beginning of the pandemic there were shortages of webcams, but at the time of writing it seems that supplies have mostly restocked.
While probably not necessary to mention, phones are essential to the job search process. I want to point out that you’ll likely want to make sure you’re comfortable with talking on the phone - when I’m not in the job search game I’m mostly reliant on texting and rarely take calls, I have been on more phone calls over the last few months than I can remember in recent memory. Be prepared, and if you suffer from phone anxiety or have any issues conducting yourself on the phone I encourage taking a few practice runs ahead of important calls.
4. Walking shoes
It can be easy to allow job searching to become a 24-hour a day task. Over the course of this search my “working time” has certainly been more than a standard 40-hour work week. I fully believe in the idea that finding a job when you don’t have one should be your full-time job, it’s important to remember that a full-time job doesn’t carry 24-hour-a-day requirements: taking time away from your desk and getting some movement in daily is a great way to separate from the stress of the search. I’ve made a promise to myself to get at least 10,000 steps a day, picking a goal and reaching it exercise-wise is a good way to feel like you’ve accomplished something no matter how the job search is going.
Everyone has their “thinking place”: a space in which, for whatever reason, one is able to achieve a level of mental clarity that eludes elsewhere. For me, this space has always been the shower. Through this search I’ve resorted to taking showers when I needed to process a lot of things, make big decisions, or clear my head before important interviews. While the shower may not have the same effect for you, it’s important to find a similar environment for decision-making and information processing that you can turn to when the time comes.
6. Cracking the Coding Interview
Any software engineer reading this post saw this one coming a mile away: this book gets talked about as in most software circles as the definitive guide to working through the technical interview process. I use it as a simple, understandable reference and source of practice problems. It has a lot of value, is certainly creditable, and I’d recommend that you pick up a copy and at least review the data structures that are identified since these are the most common in interview questions. Don’t sell yourself short by just reading the problems and assuming that you could solve them, the value in the book comes from the process of working through even the simple questions in order to remind yourself of the basics.
I’ve found that keeping track of the various job application processes that you have ongoing is best done using a classic spreadsheet. I’ve been tracking each application that I submit, any referrals or contacts that I have at the company in question, and the dates of interviews as I schedule them. I move rows around based on how far along in the process I am, recolor rows to grab my attention in future, and can filter the list as it grows with ease. The best part of a spreadsheet, in my opinion, is that it’s infinitely customizable: add what works for you and adapt as your search evolves.
Engineers use a variety of tools and environments to do their daily work: since I have a focus on Android and Kotlin development, I rely on Android Studio and IntelliJ to help me maximize productivity. In my case I’m lucky in that these tools have free versions available that I’ve begun to use while in between roles. If, however, you find that you’re unable to adapt your work to a freeware toolchain I encourage you to invest in whatever you need to be able to independently pursue improvement of your craft while you’re in the searching process. Being able to produce samples, learn new skills, and create while you’re in the job search process is empowering and gives you more material to talk about in interviews. Some interview processes have begun to ask candidates to do “homework” as a part of the process, being able to put your best foot forward in these situations relies on you having access to the tools that enable your most efficient, effective workflow. Consider money spent in this area an investment that will return dividends on your new role.
Staying connected to the world, free entertainment, and professional development: podcasts are a staple for me in my media diet no matter what my working situation is. I listen on walks, while doing household chores, and even while eating meals. The PocketCasts app is my go-to podcast app, I’d highly recommend it to both iOS and Android users alike. During my job search I’ve expanded my subscriptions to include more shows about my field: “Android Developers Backstage”, “Talking Kotlin”, and “Software Engineering Daily” come to mind as good places for Android developers to start.
I don’t need to tell you that there are digital alternatives to notebooks. Your favorite note-taking app would work just as well as my trusty pen-and-paper - I’d suggest, however, that if you’re using a loud (mechanical!) keyboard like I do that you avoid using that during interviews so that you can avoid annoying and distracting your interviewer. The important point here is to find a note taking system that works for you and actually use it.
What items have improved your life during the pandemic? If you’ve been job searching, I’m especially curious what tools you found yourself going to most frequently - send me thoughts, I’d love to hear what else I can pick up to make my life a little better!
When else in life will you have the ability to conduct the majority of your business from the comfort of a bathrobe? While many espouse the power of getting dressed like you’re going to work every day as a means of promoting responsibility, professionalism, and dedication, I’ve found that allowing myself to relax in comfortable clothes doesn’t negatively impact my productivity and makes me happier. It’s the simple things that can make a big difference in challenging situations like job hunting, take advantages of small pleasures whenever possible.