By Meggie Mahnken (Hackbright Academy Software Engineer)
I am lucky to work at Hackbright as a software engineer. I witness often at least one of, if not multiple of, the following at Hackbright Academy from our engineering fellows: epiphany, intellectual transformation, community-building, inspirational badassery, pure wizardry. What I mean to say is that it is a gift to meet each class of students and watch them grow as engineers over three months, delving into the deep secrets of the tech-niverse with a level of enthusiasm that makes it very easy to feel amazing about the work that I do here.
There is one part of the job that I could do without however. A necessary evil, inherent to the Hackbright project: watching students undergo their interview processes.
From lead generation and phone screens to technical interviews and contract negotiating, interviewing can be jarring. Did I say jarring? I meant to say awkward, unpleasant, aggravating and tedious.
Knowing what I know about the tremendous success of the Hackbrighters who have come before them, I try to hide my knowing smile when people are stressing out over interviews. However, it’s still very difficult to witness people face the profound uncertainty of a job search as an entry-level developer. Fellows at Hackbright put their careers, and often, other important aspects of their lives, on the line.
I know deep down that they are right on track, but there is nothing that I can say to a Hackbrighter who has just been passed up by a company to make them know that are going to find a job.
I asked Hackbright alumna to provide their anonymous advice – Self Care Strategies if you will – for the past, present and future entry-level software engineers with the hope that the job search will instigate personal growth instead of halting it. I’d like to thank all alumna who posted their strategies for me to share. I am reverent of your collective wisdom.
ADVICE ON TECHNICAL INTERVIEWING AND SELF CARE:
Tips & Tricks From Hackbright Alumna!
“Post-interview, immediately start looking for other jobs.
After throwing your heart and brain at a job possibility, the fear is you won’t get it and will have to start over. I nip that in the bud by starting over anyway; the whole process of researching and imagining new possibilities keeps me excited for finding something else. So if I get passed on for a job I’ve interviewed for, I’m already a few steps towards the next thing. And if I do get a job offer, at least it’ll be a pleasant surprise if it comes.
Don’t let an interview outfit/hair efforts go to waste! I always go out for dinner after an interview, regardless of how it went. Considering I usually work from home, wearing leggings as pants, with hair resembling a homeless Fraggle Rock character, the fact that I got dressed like a grown up and put effort into an outfit that doesn’t include a sweatshirt and includes pants with a zipper, is its own thing to be pleased about.
“Hang out with friends with simpatico ambitions, who are outside of the industry. Grab dinner at a favorite place, get some drinks. After dinner, a small dose of retail therapy: while tipsy, wander around a bookstore. The idea here is to go home and read a book. Do not buy self-help or memoir unless it is Steve Martin’s. Alternatively, wander around Walgreens and buy something inconsequential. Listen to the Temptations. Vigorous exercise followed by a hot shower. In any tech-industry-related-setback, I’ve found that doing something to remind myself that I have a variety of interests important.”
“This is probably a bit out there, but I’ve been focusing on using short meditation sessions after any particularly taxing situation. I have the bad habit of over analyzing and second guessing, and I’ve find it beneficial to switch mental gears as quickly as possible, and really the only way for me to do that is to pull all the stops and blank my mind for 15 minutes. Self care for me is really more focused on _not_ doing certain things but I tend to gravitate to bad habits when stressed. After [an interview], I go do something completely different, and I don’t look at work or related material until the next day. And legit next day, after sleep, none of that 12:01 BS.”
“I watched Amy Purdy on *Dancing with the Stars* when I was going through interviews this last time and when it was really ‘hard’ – watching her dance without legs made everything feel easy.”
“[I like to] spend time with friends after an interview. particularly after a hard/tough/bad one. If I’m not feeling so great after an interview, spending time with friends just makes me feel better about myself, you know? Uplifts me! I try to do this even if I don’t feel like it, as I always feel better afterwards.”
“Do coding work that is within your knowledge scope or just outside of it. Purpose: Some interview questions will be tough and way out of your skill set and make you feel like you know nothing even though you do. It’s good for the ego.”
“Honestly, the best thing is managing expectations. The industry is bizarre, and I, for one, still don’t understand what makes the difference in hiring decisions.”
“Personally, I think drinking can be considered a self care strategy.”
[In response to the previous comment.] “But only if said drinks come with a large helping of hanging out with those that support you either within the tech community and wonderful Hackbright community as well as outside of it. The importance of hanging out with amazing people that aren’t interviewing is just as important as hanging with those that are going through it by your side for the sake of balance and not becoming singularly consumed by the hunt. Whenever I walk anywhere I either call my mom, brother or cousin – all of them are very [Team Me] but are completely removed from tech.”
I’m a big fan of working out – partially for the endorphins, but more so for the time it gave me to clear my head and to feel like I’m kicking serious ass, even if it’s just in a small way. Really anything that can be small successes to offset the stress of applying/rejection is really helpful. On the theme of side projects – I’m a big advocate for doing a hack-a-thon when on the hunt. It’s exciting to be in that environment and gratifying to see how far you’ve come in such a short period of time (creating an app in just 24 hours!). Bonus points: partner companies with APIs at the hack-a-thon are usually hiring/giving out cool prizes!”
“The last thing I want to do after an interview is go code. I jot down the problem [from a whiteboarding session at an interview] ([or take a picture] of the white board?) and think about it tomorrow.”
“I usually end up making myself a cocktail and then watching True Blood. :p”
“If I want ice cream, I eat it. [M]y general rule is ‘do whatever it takes to get through the day (preferably without crying)’. For me that’s mostly eating dessert.”
“Finding a balance of reaching out to people is important.
By that I mean, know when to surround yourself with those going through a similar struggle, and know when to cut out the white noise. Interviewing was far and away the hardest part of the process for me – more difficult than anything we tackled at Hackbright or anything that has been thrown at me at a job. I think the reason is because self-confidence is so much at play.
I’m sure we can all relate, to some extent, to just how hard it is to keep an ‘I-can-totally-do-this’ outlook while the ratio of no’s to yes’ increases, and the number of potential opportunities decreases – and word on the street is that Sally Sue got eleventy job offers and she can’t decide whether to go with the company that gives every new engineer a puppy or the company that contracts Ryan Gosling to give weekly back massages. Meanwhile, I’m on my third phone-screen of the day, and company X hasn’t gotten back to me in two weeks, and I’m supposed to submit this god-forsaken, take-home code assignment in an hour to company Y, and I’ve yet to secure a single, real ‘yes’. Am I happy for Sally? Of course! Do I think it’s important to stay informed and keep each other accountable? Absolutely. But it’s already hard enough to keep morale up sometimes without the added worry of wondering ‘why not me?’ or hearing about the hundreds of resources or tutorials I better be doing or else I’m completely unhireable. Can such things be useful? Again, of course. But sometimes it’s healthier to just take a deep breath, mute the email chain or decline the event, and focus on yourself.“
“..I’ve always found that my best interviews happen after I’ve said, ‘fuck it’. I’ve gotten jobs after not studying and just veg-ing out beforehand. It’s good to glance over some notes, but I already know what I know, so studying doesn’t usually ‘help’ me. My best interviews always happen after I’ve relaxed into a state of, ‘if I get it, it was meant to be. If I don’t, I just didn’t fit the company, and that’s fine… It keeps me human and able to enjoy my interviews, rather than be nervous about them. Before the interview, having a few drinks (calming nerves) and going out dancing (getting some exercise) the night before, or the night after the interview really helps!”
“Set a mini-goal for yourself to have something more achievable and within your control as a measure of success, rather than just ‘did you get an offer or not’ from the interview. Figure out how you can make that interview more of useful thing for yourself in of itself and not have it be entirely A Judgment On Your Worth As a Coder And Human Being Forever. This could be ‘I’m going to focus on talking through my thinking out loud more than usual’ or ‘I’m going to practice my soft skills and make a personal connection with this interviewer’ (even if this doesn’t in fact lead to an offer). When I did write-ups of the interviews I went through for the rest of my [Hackbright] class, I could console myself that hopefully my experience could help someone else do better from knowing what they’re getting into, so it’s not a total loss. Figure out one positive thing from the interview that you can remember as your main memory of it, like ‘Hey cool I learned this one new technique!’ or something. I’m really big on the whole selectively focusing on positive memories to improve your happiness level overall :)”
“I met Monday thru Friday with a classmate to do job searching and side projects and go to events so that I didn’t feel alone and so that someone was there to judge me if I was getting off task.”