Career conversation prep for students and new grads

Friends and family frequently reach out to me with requests to meet with someone who has aspirations toward a career in tech.

“Our good friend’s daughter just graduated from {college} and is looking for a job and hopes to find something in tech.”

“{Name} is interested in finding an entry level role in tech/programming and looking for leads on jobs or internships. He/she would like a call with you to learn about your career path in tech.”

“Yesterday I met up with a friend-of-a-friend for coffee. She’s exploring her career next steps, and wanting to be very thoughtful about culture fit for her next move. I was wondering if you’d be willing to meet up with her to share your experience?”

“I’d like to introduce you to my colleague {name}. She has realized that her current role at our company isn’t the right career path for her, and she’s interested in exploring opportunities in tech. I thought a conversation with you about the culture at Twitter might be helpful.”

I am eager to help people on their journey to a fulfilling career in tech – especially people who are under represented and aren’t well connected, don’t come from a traditional background, or might not have gone to an elite college. The tech industry tends to scoop up computer science majors from a select few colleges – those folks usually have lots of good options. Others find it very challenging to break in.

I am also eager to help people that I am personally well positioned to help. I am best able to provide advice about roles in engineering. I don’t always have good insight on other types of roles in the tech industry.

I’ve learned that my willingness to help doesn’t always translate to a robust career conversation.

Where career conversations go wrong

In one instance, I had very little information about what the person was looking for ahead of the call. It ended up going something like this. She gave me a run down of her background (which was in non profit recruiting). She said she wanted a job in technical recruiting but didn’t know where to start. She then asked what backgrounds people in technical recruiting have (while I work with lots of folks in recruiting, I do not happen to know what the background patterns are). I asked, had she looked at the LinkedIn profiles for tech recruiters? No. Had she looked at training paths through Udemy, Coursera, or LinkedIn Learning for technical recruiting? No. Had she done a Google search for articles and blog posts about getting into technical recruiting? No. Had she looked to see if there were any meetups of people in technical recruiting? No. Sigh. You get the point. Outside of asking the most basic questions, I just wasn’t in a good position to help her. It was not a good use of my time, or hers.

So this leads me to develop… a little homework for these kinds of calls. I put together something similar for conversations about careers in engineering management.

Career conversation homework

So you want a job in engineering at a tech company? Here are some questions to prepare for career conversations. If you’re a student, you should be able to engage with your college career counseling office for many of these.

  1. What type of work are you interested in? Are you looking for front end/web development work? iOS/Android client work? Back end work? Operating systems, databases, distributed systems? Machine learning? There are many opportunities and it’s critical to begin honing in on what opportunities you are looking for. Studying job descriptions can be a great help here. So can following topics like Web Development or Machine Learning or Cloud Platforms on Twitter.
  2. What specific role are you interested in? We have dozens (hundreds?) of job postings at Twitter, for example, and dozens (hundreds?) of engineering teams. While I can sometimes help with a referral, it has to be for a specific role that exists within the company. Only you can determine what kind of work you want to do. I want to be able to say to a fellow engineering manager, “Nina has been studying distributed key value storage systems, she might be a good fit for our storage team,” or “Amir completed a project on natural language processing, are you hiring new grads for that NLP project?”
  3. What have you done so far? Have you earned a computer science degree, enrolled in or graduated from a bootcamp, taken online programming classes, worked on any personal programming projects? Have you applied for jobs or internships already? Completed interviews? Been rejected or gotten no response? Where are you in the fairly well documented “How to get a software engineer job at a top tech company” journey? Is there something specific you need help with?
  4. For those interested in my career path, do you have any specific questions that come up when you read this article (interview that touches on career moves prior to Twitter), and of course my LinkedIn profile? Are you specifically interested in management, startups, infrastructure, or something else in my background?

I wish I could meet with everyone, but just as our business is all about scaling systems, I’m always trying to think about how to better scale myself. My work schedule is often double and triple booked, and I have family obligations at home. I think in many cases, people just need to figure out where to get started, and the exercise of going through the preparation work above is likely more valuable than any pithy advice I could give. And if a conversation is still warranted, it will be much richer for both of us.

Good luck! Buena suerte! Bonne chance!

Image credit: Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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