Partially attributed to the timing of my Metis cohort concluding at the end of September, the first few months of job hunting was dry. October through December are very slow hiring months for companies with the holidays and some companies even freeze hiring. It's not completely because we were incompetent, but it definitely felt like it.
I was applying to every single job opening on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Angel List. I was getting countless e-mails from 3rd party recruiters trying to get me to go far away from home for a Senior Data Scientist Director role. They don't even try. So many of these, you just need to filter through, but it was clear that I needed a different approach.
It started with me LinkedIn messaging a recruiter at the company and/or the most probable hiring manger. If I didn't get a response within a few days, I'd apply directly through the site. I thought at least if they've seen my name somewhere before, I would have a higher chance...right? I was getting a few phone calls, but none were resulting in in-person interviews - I needed more technical interview experience.
Some of my cohort mates found jobs within a month. I was happy for them, but at the same time, it was difficult to wonder what I was doing wrong. It was even becoming more like a question on what was wrong with me.
During these past few months, I've sent more messages, e-mails, applications, and versions of my resume to more companies than I can count. I was tracking all of them in the beginning, but it ended up becoming a graveyard of my failures, and felt like more reminder of shortcoming than anything else.
The New Year
When 2017 started, I went hardcore. With companies picking up hiring again and their new budgets, more jobs were being posted and more calls were coming in. Things happened in waves. I'd have nothing for a couple weeks, then 4 or 5 companies would contact me within 2 or 3 days.
This was also when there was a lot of hope. Every time a new e-mail came, another phone call, an invitation for a technical, or on-site interview was another drop in the oasis of my dry bank account. Hope that this would be the one. Hope leads to expectation. Expectation sometimes leads to disappointment, but disappointment leads to reflection and ultimately improvement.
- Lack of work experience - the big one. Nothing much you can do but keep on pushing through this and hoping they look at your stuff and understand you have the technical capacity.
- Competing with more educated people - most companies want PhD's in machine learning, statistics, CS, or a "similar field." This spurred me to keep on learning.
- Not knowing some things as well - I had limited knowledge of SQL, big data tools, and A/B testing, so I looked for online resources to keep on learning. You can't just say "Ugh, whatever. I can't do anything about that." when you absolutely CAN.
- Interview experience - I was doing okay in the phone screens, but technical interviews take time to get used to and understanding how to communicate. As I got deeper in the interview process, the more I was learning on how to convey my thought process.
- Keep looking for chances. Be a good and interesting person and someone will want to work with you because they like you. Technical ability most definitely matters, but character matters more.
- Keep on pushing. I am a firm believer that everything big happens for a reason. Just because you wanted a job somewhere really badly doesn't mean that job is going to be great. I've had a lot of disappointments that turned into "oh, maybe it was good I'm not at that company now..." That also means that in the face of rejection, the most important thing is perseverance.
- Keep on learning. Learn what was difficult about the interview you just failed, then work on it. Don't just brute force apps. Analyze, improve, and never settle.
- Keep your head up. It's tough. It's hard. You will fail. You will burn out. You will be sad. Nothing worth having comes easily, but everything you work for doesn't come from giving up.
- Feeling dejected is a choice. When things don't go your way, you can either be depressed and sad, or use it as fuel to push harder and improve. Only one of those choices is constructive and produces results.
When you get that first offer, it's a breath of fresh air. It feels like everything you've suffered through and worked for has finally come to fruition. Yet all that hard work is just the beginning. Now, it's time to work even harder at the job than you did to find it.
It's a scary - but worthy challenge.
Justin Chien, Data Scientist (it's official now)