Navigating the high-tech job landscape can be intimidating. Many high-tech job seekers will compare roles that appear to offer the same career opportunity on the surface, but in practice will leave them with vastly different experience and technical skill profiles.
So how can candidates tell a ‘bad’ job from a ‘good’ job? In truth, there is no single answer to that question. The success of any job really depends on how well it aligns with the employee’s personality, values, motivations, and career goals. One individual’s career misstep can be another’s advancement.
At Talentlab, we have been placing tech candidates for 23 years, and we normally play a big role in helping candidates figure out their next best career step. For those not able to work with our talented team, we have carefully curated a ‘tried-and-true’ list of the steps that every high-tech job seeker can use to truly find the right role for them.
Understand What Really Matters to You
The deeper you go into researching what you’re looking for, the better your results will be. Most candidates’ top three or four concerns when considering a new role are fairly superficial and usually related to peripheral aspects of the role, like location or salary. While these examples are important aspects of why a role may or may not compliment your lifestyle, neither are crucial enough that they alone will make a bad career step feel good to you. According to a Glassdoor survey in 2018, the traditional top factors that pushed candidates to apply to a job were:
Although you will see advice all over the web about how to vet career opportunities based on their salary, location and corporate culture, we would suggest that those are outdated factors to base your career decisions on, especially in the high-tech industry. Instead, high-tech workers should start by assessing their own past experiences to focus on their ‘tech happy place’ before considering the more traditional aspects of a career move. Take the software engineering space for example, do you love researching, planning and overcoming dependency issues? Do you love plugging in your headphones, letting the world fall away and coding for hours? Or maybe you love meeting with clients and solving business problems with disruptive high-impact solutions. Your sweet spot could be the thrill of release management, or your bliss fixing coding issues and testing bugs. For every step in the process of technological creation, there are job roles that will feature more or less prominently.
Software Engineering, DevOps, Testing, Architecture, and Product Management are all great examples of roles that may have similar keywords or even skill requirements, however, anyone who has gone through a common SDLC will know that each area has its own unique challenges. This is the same for hardware, firmware, or really any other technical space. Some candidates love ‘bare metal’ hardware work while others prefer the challenges of developing on a higher layer. Figuring out what really gets you excited and where you find yourself the most engaged will be the biggest factor in finding the best-suited role for you.
Finding the Best Places to Work
Once you have an idea of what your ideal functional role looks like, it’s time to find the best place that will pay you to do it. At a time when most high-tech employers are offering major perks, equity and similar bonus structures, it can be daunting to try to separate your options based on nuanced information that is rarely available to the public.
The majority of technical candidates will immediately focus on programming languages, frameworks, platforms or tools as major considerations when they are looking at a potential employer, but in reality, these variables are often far less meaningful to their future career than the approach to work being done. Instead of thinking about what coding language a potential employer is using on the backend, consider how the code documentation is being done, or how the current team handles coding reviews.
In reality, many employers will hire a great software engineer even if he/she/they have not used a certain programming language, but will not consider them if they have not worked within a modern development methodology or haven’t been using industry-accepted best practices. Does the current dev team get to participate in planning discussions about legacy or future projects? Will you have some autonomy in the work you choose to do? Is there peer programming or mentorship available? If you find a healthy tech ecosystem, with a focus on the quality of work, regardless of the specific programming language, tools or technologies involved you will be happier for it. More than just personal fulfillment, candidates’ careers will benefit from working within a functional tech organization more than their careers will have a lesser quality experience with a ‘high-in-demand’ language or tool.
It’s worth noting that depending on your tech space, trends around tools or languages can change very quickly. Focus your job search on companies that will offer you a chance to do the work properly, especially if you are still in the first 0-10 years of your career. Look for big, complex work being done at a high quality that will require creative solutions that may help you become more marketable as a tech resource in the future. Consider how the current team approaches source control, coding reviews, properly scheduled sprints and releases, and/or anything else that may be the valuable experience you may need to effectively market yourself to future employers.
Remember – You Know Best
A gut check is a simple yet crucial step in finding the right high-tech role for you but is often overlooked or unprioritized. Candidates regularly ask colleagues, friends, family or even strangers for career advice, but rarely do they give credence to their own gut check. Listen to your intuition, gut or whatever you call that inner voice. It will help guide you towards better career decisions and ultimately make for a less stressful career transition.
When our outer actions or identity reflect our inner voice, we are often at our happiest. This is where a company’s culture really plays a big role in the overall definition of a ‘good’ career opportunity. If your gut is telling you this is not the role, hiring manager, or corporate culture for you then trust it. That can be easy to do when the company is known to be problematic, and a lot harder to do when it’s a globally recognized employer that everyone is dying to work for.
The reality is that every day working at a company (even one that has the most amazing perks on the planet) that doesn’t reflect your personal values will demoralize you a bit more. One day that consistent demoralization will eventually have an adverse effect on your quality of work, happiness, and ultimately your career. Trust yourself, and be ready to walk away from a role unless your gut check is telling you it’s right for you. More recent research has shown that even large companies have explored combining analytical data and intuition, because data has shown the mix produces better business outcomes. Applying a similar approach to your own career will help you avoid career missteps.
The Perks are Overrated
Purposely salary, perks and location fall at the bottom of this article. Location used to be a huge career transition factor but post-COVID high-tech trends are showing us that location will never be as crucial of a career variable. Data suggests that remote work will continue to be more widely adopted throughout high-tech over the next decade, and will open up non-local markets for most high-tech job seekers. That being said, pragmatically as a job seeker, you need to ensure you can commit to the location or working hours that an employer is expecting.
Salary is deprioritized here because hard data and research show us that in cases where job seekers are already making above-average salaries, like in high-tech, salary bumps no longer correlate to happiness. Our team at Talentlab firmly agrees that a big salary never made a bad job worth doing. We speak to the best and brightest in high-tech every day, those that make well above the market salary norms even within high-tech, and yet every day we hear from candidates that feel trapped, demoralized, and are in desperate need of a change. While salary is traditionally one of the biggest factors why most job seekers decide to accept or decline a role, it shouldn’t be for anyone that is already covering their living costs and has attained their ideal lifestyle. Much research on the subject shows that there is a limit to how much fulfillment or happiness a higher salary can bring. In fact, data shows that at a certain line, a higher salary can actually produce lower happiness. Not only does having meaning in your career make you happier, but studies have also shown that you tend to be more productive in your work. You will be happier, work more productively and in general be a better employee if you choose your career transitions based on the work and not the compensation. Choosing a role based on salary is a high risk, because ultimately the higher the salary the higher the expectations, and the harder the fall if it doesn’t work out.
Princeton University found that emotional well-being only rises with income to a point of about $75,000 for Americans (or $86,000 in today’s dollars). (source)
While salary is absolutely one of the bigger career variables, the higher you earn the less it should factor into your career planning. Salary, vacation, perks should only all be measured or considered after job seekers determine the role and the company are aligned with their goals and interests. Even then salary should be a much more meaningful variable in the first few years of high-tech careers while job seekers are paying off education loans, buying homes or starting families.