I’m in a bit of a strange situation, for me at least. For the first time in 14 years, I’m unemployed. Splinterworks, the company I was working for, decided to close its doors. As I wrote that day, I immediately started going down my “Oh No! List.” That day I had a meeting with a company that I knew was interested in having me join their team. That evening, I sent off a bunch of emails. I contacted 2 developer friends, more as friends, than really prospecting for jobs. I ended up having good conversations with both of them, and also some good advice from them.
I then went to the gym for my normal Wednesday night class of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I actually talked to a class mate who is a recruiter. By the time I talked to him, he’d already heard about the company closing (it’s a small community in Omaha.)
When I got home I reached out to a recruiter. I had worked with her about 2 ago, when I used their agency to help staff our team. I included a resume with that email. I also contacted a former coworker who worked at a consulting company, and he had expressed interest in the past about me joining their team. I included a resume for him to forward on to their HR recruiter. I then posted a facebook status asking if anyone knew of any places looking for a .NET developer. One friend did, and gave me his email for a resume. Finally, I reached out to someone that I had helped launch his start-up. He’s still in a fundraising mindset, so I didn’t think there would be a job opportunity there, but I knew he knew people in town. Finally, I went to be Wednesday night at about 9:30 (normal time for me.)
I woke up to a couple of emails, one was a meeting invite for 9am (I was up by 6am as usual.) The other promised to get in touch with me later in the day with a recruiter friend of his.
My day Thursday looked like this:
8:45am Called by the recruiter from the gym. Set up a meeting at 2:30 pm
9-10:15 am Coffee with a recruiter
10:30am called by another recruiter.
11:30am called by HR recruiter from the consulting firm that the former coworker is at.
12:00pm Lunch with the company that I met with Wednesday
1:30pm phone call from the recruiter friend of the start up guy
2:30pm Met with recruiter and account execs from the gym.
4pm Consulting company emails with a time for an interview
8pm – Went and bought some khakis and a nice shirt for the interviews the next day. I have lost enough weight since the last time I had to dress business casual that most of my slacks are obviously baggy on me. I also made sure I found out the expected attire for the interviews. As bad as showing up in jeans to an interview where they expect business casual, showing up in a suit when they expect jeans is almost as bad.
End of day 1 – Interview scheduled with consulting company, the 1:30 phone call lead to my resume being submitted to client. The 2:30pm meeting lead to my resume being sent to 3 more companies. The 9am meeting with the recruiter lead to scheduling a meeting the next day to meet with all their account execs.
9:30pm – Went to bed like normal
Friday (October 11, 2013)
Woke up at 5:30 to get to my morning gym class
8:45am – Call from recruiter to schedule an interview with a client downtown (same recruiter that I talked to at 1:30 the day before) Less than 20 hours after submitting a resume to them, an interview is scheduled.
9am – First offer arrives via email from the company I met on Wednesday and had lunch on Thursdsay.
10am – Had a meeting with the recruiter and all the account execs at the firm I talked to at 9am the day before.
1pm – Interviewed with consulting company (HR, director of development and 3 different account execs.)
4pm – Went to the gym for “open mat.” While there, received an email that another company wants to do a phone screen on Monday.
Saturday & Sunday
I watched a lot of football, opened some presents (Saturday was my birthday) watched my daughter play volleyball, ate some good food and went to bed just like any other night.
It took me well into the afternoon Saturday to stop checking email. It wasn’t that I was expecting an email, but after the previous 48 hours, I was receiving an email just about every time I checked. The recruiters and companies took the weekend off, but I was still used to getting a ton of email. It was a hectic 48 hours.
I was supposed to have a phone screen with a potential company on Monday. However, Monday morning while I was doing some things around the house, I got a call from the recruiter that said they agreed to bypass the phone screen and do an in-person interview on Wednesday.
Later in the day Monday, a contact from a former coworker reached out and set up an interview at his company. The interview was for 3:30 Wednesday.
Tuesday started bright and early. I had an 8:30 interview at a company not far from the house. I met with the CTO and we mostly just talked. There weren’t a lot of technical questions, but he gave me a good understanding of the history of their company and where they were trying to go. It was a small company of about 30-40 people, primarily doing software development. It was definitely an interesting place.
After the interview I went into the splinterworks office and did some work on one of the projects. Even though we were free to never come back, we were also able to do a set amount of work to try and wrap up a couple things.
At 1pm, I left and headed downtown for the second interview of the day. I met with a group of 4 people from a large insurance company. Everyone was super nice and as I walked into the conference room, I saw coding questions on the whiteboard. In some ways it reminded me of interviews at Infogroup. It was relaxed and conversational, but they very obviously were interested in making sure someone knew at least some code. We were supposed to only have 45 minutes, but we ended up talking for about 1 hour 15 minutes.
As I drove home from the interview, I got a call from the consulting company, and she informed me they were extending a contingent offer (contingent on a clean background check, and on my ability to provide 3 people who can talk nice about me as a reference.)
I got home and hung out for a couple hours before I headed to the gym for my jiu-jitsu classes and sparring. While I was relaxing, watching Netflix, I got a call from the recruiter for the 8:30 interview, he said they wanted me to come back and meet the rest of the team on Thursday. I agreed and told him I was open all day Thursday, so get it set up and I’d be there.
As I got out of the gym at 8:00pm, I had a message from the same recruiter asking me to call him back. I did and the interview from that morning made an offer, they still wanted me to come meet the team, but they wanted to get an offer in front of me.
Wednesday morning I woke up like normal at 5:30, but I did not go to the gym because my sparring class the night before was just too exhausting, so I laid around and watched Netflix until it was time for me to go to my first interview at 10am.
As I was lying around, I heard back from the recruiter for the Tuesday afternoon interview, they wanted me to come back down for a second interview. At this time, I had 3 offers, and all 3 companies were interesting, and I think good matches for me. The company from Tuesday afternoon, was a bit bigger than I was interested in. I declined the follow up, noting that there was nothing wrong with the people (they really were nice, and I think I could have enjoyed working with them.)
I went to my interview at 10, and it was lead by one of the guys from the gym. I knew this going in. We talked as a group for 2-3 minutes before we dove into the interview. It was probably one of the more thorough interviews I’d been involved in. They talked about philosophy, mindset, and technical questions. The entire group was very easy to relate to, and I really enjoyed talking with them.
I came home from the interview and ran a couple of errands with my daughter and then relaxed until it was time to head to my 3:30 interview. This was set up from a former coworker who had worked at splinterworks when I started there. As I lounged around, I got a call from the recruiter from my morning interview and they were going to make an offer.
At this point the Tuesday morning interview and the Wednesday morning interview were my top 2 choices. Both had really strong positives, and nothing negative really jumped out at me. Of course, it’s the real world, and there is no “perfect place to work” but it’s always amazing the little things you can pick up in an interview.
I did my Wednesday interview and it was a really nice company with some more nice people. But to be completely honest, there wasn’t anything there that excited me more than my top 2 choices, so when they emailed me later in the night with their technical screen and follow up questions, I declined (hopefully politely.)
I was finally done interviewing. It was a relief to know that was the case. I had met with the company that I was going to. I had an offer from them, and I enjoyed both of my options. In fact, it was honestly the hardest decision I’ve had to make regarding a new job. Always before one job was far and away better than all the rest. That wasn’t the case with this round. In fact, each of the 4 offers had some very appealing aspects to them. But I had narrowed it down to two.
I went in at 9am and met with more of the team from the company Tuesday morning. Again we sat around and talked, there weren’t a lot of technical questions. I also was able to meet the owner and one of the VPs and the owner ran me through his vision of the company, where he’s been and what they’re doing now.
As I left the company, I really felt like that was the company to beat. The projects they were working on seemed like interesting problems to solve, and they also seemed to be using innovative ways to solve them.
I went home and told my wife that her job was to talk me into the other company, the company from Wednesday morning. Salary came up, but only for a minute or two, because once all the benefits were applied there was only about a $1000 difference in take home pay for the entire year. And yes, $1000 is a good chunk of change, but at the same time, job excitement could easily trump $1000.
We agreed that the company I had just met with was where I really wanted to be. Again, it wasn’t something that was far-and-away better than everything else. And that’s not a knock on the new company, but rather a statement on the quality of offers and companies I was talking to.
I drove in to splinterworks to have lunch with the guys at least one more time. I used that call to notify the 3 companies that I wasn’t going to as well as the one company that I was. As much as it is business, it was still hard to turn down the other 3 companies. They were each appealing for different reasons. Each of their offers were tempting. I literally pictured myself working at each job. In some small way, I was emotionally invested in each of them just from the people I met. But in the end, I knew the job I wanted to take most. And to the credit of every HR person, or recruiter I talked to, they were all very professional and polite as we discussed why I wasn’t coming to their company.
Things I Learned
Networking actually is important. When I first graduated college, I looked at recruiters more as parasites. Organisms that survived only by leaching off of the people they place. But over the last few years my attitude changed. Some of that was working with good recruiters when I was at Infogroup. Some of it was seeing that recruiters can provide a valuable service in that they can spend their time talking you up to potential clients as opposed to you trying to do that. And honestly, some of it was seeing that they are just different personalities. I spent the last 7 years at a higher state of stress and excitement because my days were filled with phone calls, and trips across town, and emails back and forth about possible opportunities. I tried to optimize my time in the car by talking to a recruiter or friend as I drove from interview to interview. That WORE ME OUT! And yet, that’s what most recruiters do EVERYDAY. For most, I assume, it’s something they enjoy. They like the business of it all, they like the interaction. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong and I’m right.
Additionally, just from being somewhat active in the community I was able to secure a couple of endorsements from people I met. I’m FAR from active. I don’t attend every users group meeting (in fact, I miss more than I attend.) That coupled with talking about code outside of the immediate project I’m doing lead to getting another recommendation. In fact, at the consulting company, I was told that the two consultants that they had that recommended me carried a lot of weight. I didn’t befriend either of these men in hopes that one day I would be able to use them as a recommendation. Instead, I just talked to them and related to them as fellow developers. In the end, it opened up some opportunities. And honestly, if the situation was reversed and they needed recommendation, I would have done the same for them.
For the fourth job in a row now, the work I have done outside of my 9-5 job has played a drastic role in helping me land a new job. At Conductix, I had done .NET development as a side project at Caterpillar to help me with some internal tools. At Infogroup, I had written an MVC application for my sister in my own time, that project helped meet many of the technical requirements they were looking for. At splinterworks, I was able to send them to a Github repo of a project I did in Ruby, as well as a blog post I wrote about the process. It wasn’t essential to the job, in fact I never did Ruby at splinterworks, but I know that demonstrating the fact that I was interested in more than just what I worked on was an important part. Finally, with this new job (and really in almost every interview I did) the work I’ve done with AngularJS, Backbone and KnockoutJS all came up as things that I do in my spare time. In both of the companies that made my final list, we talked for a few minutes about these technologies. If I had relied only on the work I had from 9-5, I would not have had the knowledge to talk about those technologies.
Put simply, the work I did outside of work helped separate me from several other developers.
Finally, I was very pleased with the recruiters I worked with. I ended up using 3 separate recruiting companies. I also had interviews with 3 separate companies that I got by my personal network. When I told each recruiter that I was done with a job opportunity (whether that was before a follow up interview, or after an offer) every single one agreed not to push the issue, and do what I wanted. None of the recruiters sent my resume to places that I didn’t authorize, and they were all up front about any company that I might be interested in, if they thought the company couldn’t match my salary expectations.
I included some of the innocuous things like the time I woke up or went to bed, the times I went to the gym to show that I was able to approach my life roughly the same as the days I had a job to get to.
I held off publishing this post until the whole thing was over. I think I did a good job of anonymizing my activity and who I was talking to, but I didn’t want to put this out and risk a company seeing it and thinking it affected whether they were in the running.
The entire process was INCREDIBLY exhausting. I kicked the process off at about 2pm on Wednesday, October 9th. I had the last conversation with a recruiter at about 2pm on Thursday, October 17th, or 8 days later. In that time I had 6 interviews and 4 offers. I met with dozens of people from recruiters, developers, managers, account execs etc. (I counted 35 different people in my head, and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone.)
Finally, I’m incredibly grateful and thankful for the experiences I’ve had in Omaha in the past several years. Each of them, at the time, seemed innocuous enough. I spoke at HDC on OpenRasta and ReSTful services in 2011, nothing directly came out of that speaking engagement, but it shaped me and put me in touch with people that ended up recommending me places this time around. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to play with some pretty cool things at work as well, and that has helped “keep the saw sharp.” When splinterworks decided to close their doors, there was not a big jump needed to get me ready to be on the open market, and I’m very thankful that’s the case.