There’s one guarantee in your career: you won’t work the same job forever. Don’t wait until you’re at the end of your patience with your current job or for someone to offer you your dream job on a whim—take control of your future by owning and planning your next move well ahead of sending out your resume. In this talk we’ll go over how to discover what you want next through experimentation at your day job, how to prepare to ace the interview, and then how to weigh your options and compare your Future You’s to make smart bets that take you where you want to go. This talk is intended for people who already have jobs in tech, whether they’re thinking about getting a new one or not!
Let's do it. All right. Hi, there. The past couple of years have been really interesting. I know a lot of people have been looking into what their next job is going to be in something that is called the Great Resignation. A lot of people have been slugging it out in their home offices and now ready for the next jump. I want to tell you how to plan and prepare for the next role.
As mentioned, I'm Rachel Lee Nabors, I work on React Community at Meta, and, today, I'm going to start by telling you that everything you know about the job hunt is actually 100% wrong.
We enter into our new jobs imagining they're going to go on indefinitely. You know, you start this new job, this new relationship with a group of people, and a company, and you feel like this is it. This is forever. You can lose sight of the fact that nothing is forever. Safety is an illusion. On a long enough timeline, every single one of your co-workers isn't going to work at that company any longer, and the same goes for you.
There is a scene in this animated movie based on the Last Unicorn where this I am mortal unicorn is transformed into a lovely young Princess. Even though she is this young beautiful woman, the first thing she says is that she can feel herself dying. She can feel herself now marching towards death. That's great, that's wonderful.
In the same way, no sooner do you start your job than you're on a timeline to leaving that job. Here's how we usually think that moving on to our next role works. We start by deciding that we are going to quit. And we - or maybe we get fired. The company gets downsized, whatever would be we know the end is coming. Then we start interviewing.
Then we get a job over, and then we accept the offer, right? There is a problem with this structure that really puts you at a disadvantage. You see, the problem is that, by the time you've decided to quit, you're probably burnt out, you have to start preparing to interview, you're under pressure, and you're definitely not going to be able to negotiate in your best interests by then or make good decisions. Y
ou will have to pick something, you will have to jump from the burning building rather than being able to sit back and say I don't like any of these, orb I think this could be better, I'm happy where I am. You aren't in a position of power and relaxation. And that puts you on your back foot.
Here is the timeline that puts you, the employee, back in control. First, interview regularly. It is not something that, "I'm going to prepare for interviewing" - no. You should regularly spruce the resume with the scuff you've been working on, brush up your skills, doing code challenges. This should be a regular part of your work routine. Consider it is like the toilette that you do.
Next, get job offers lined up. If you're interviewing regularly - not constantly, but regularly - you should have a regular stream of job offers coming in. That means when you know it's time to quit, not when quitting has been thrust upon you by fate, you can turn around and accept an offer that has already been lined up for you. All right.
So, let's talk a little bit about interviewing for fun, not just for profit. Now, many people make the mistake of only looking for work when they think that they are ready, or you know, they have their skills lined up, or they've done 100 leak codes. The problem is that you're missing exceptional and timely opportunities by always waiting until you feel like you're perfectly primed and ready for the next thing.
You're done with your current role, you've got your skills all set at 100, and you're in that mind space. There are opportunities streaming past you 24/7. A lot of them are amazing. You might find you're ready for the new opportunity or that your skills were good enough, even where your skills need improvement, in the way that cramming before an interview isn't going to tell you.
Let's dive in a little bit on this. Informationals. These are not interviews. These are where you meet up with someone, you had a coffee with them, you ask them about what they're doing. It's great for meeting people, and people you look up to. This is a great way to learn a lot from peers and role models and it is low pressure.
It's not, "I would like to talk to you about a job." It's like, "I would like to talk with you about your job and see how you're doing things, I'm interested in this space. Do you have time for a coffee, a quick Zoom chat?" You will do better at your own current job for having this cross-pollination of ideas, and also put yourself top of mind in case they have any cool opportunities coming up that you might be interested in.
Don't wait until you're ready to quit to start looking for your calling. There are some great books about exploring things from right where you are. Your current job by the way is a perfect testing ground for what you want do do next.
I highly recommend the book Designing Your Work Life, if you feel you're stuck at you are, and we have had all had important things to deliver on meaning we are stuck there. That doesn't mean you can't start testing out things that will point you in the direction of what your next role is.
Pivot is another book, a little bit more aspirational for people who definitely know they're going to be leaving their current role and moving on to something different. It is a little bit different. Both books have slightly different approaches to how you workshop that from right where you are.
Now, ideally, your resume, your CV, is always up to date. I like to do this by writing my CV while I'm work. At the end of a great project, I will revisit my resume and my CV and see if it is more important and awesome than my current line-up of things.
Typically, if you've got a good job, and you're doing work that you're really proud of, this is a regular occurrence. So you're constantly fleshing out that resume with all your most recent work, you're able to put in numbers that show the impact that you had, and this is an excellent way to make sure you're not just staring at a blank sheet of paper when you're stressed out and you have to bounce. You know what? You pull the PDF out of the stock folder, and you're ready to go.
Interviewing itself is a skill. Something I heard all the time since joining big tech. Interviewing is a skill and you have to practise it. Practising at regular intervals it a great idea. I know people who practise once a year, who will have an interview tour de force, during a slow period. Some folks will do it three to five times every six months. This will help you get confident.
You've done it before, you will do it again, this is a life-changing, "Oh, my gosh if I don't make this interview, nothing will go right", no, no, no, par for the course, I was a little off put by white boarding six months ago, and now I'm more confident about that. You start to desensitise yourself to rejection, and when you're not looking for a job, and someone doesn't want you for the job, you don't care about.
When you're desperate for the job, it hurts a lot. It can be a real blow to your confidence. If you've been practising this in low-pressure environments, you sharpen your skills, you depersonalise the experience which puts you in the right frame of mind for giving an awesome interview. Another thing, batch these interviews. That is to say, doing them in one or two weeks as opposed to one or two a month for 12 months.
Each interview is practice for the next. If all those interviews happen to turn into offers and you do find out looks like the company's having financial troubles and I might want to jump ship, now you've got a bevy of offers that can turn into a great negotiation set-up for you.
A lot of people say, "But, Rachel, I'm going to feel guilty about interviewing. I love my job. I love my co-workers." Let me level with you. First off, your co-workers will leave the job at one point or another. Your job is not a person who lies awake thinking at night about you thinking they can't believe you left them at the crack of dawn.
It's a company, it's a self-organising structure of human beings. It doesn't have a conscience or feelings, and it certainly doesn't care about you. You like the people you work with, and you will probably work with them in a different structure in the future. Put yourself first here. You're not cheating on somebody or your job. E
veryone you work with is going to go and you need to practise for the time when you go as well. I like to track my interviews using spreadsheets. I've included a link to this. If you go there, you can get an idea of this Google sheet and how I've got it set up. This is how I keep track of who I've interviewed with, who my points of contact are. This is great if you're in an emergency situation between your interview courses, and you need to follow up. You can go back to here and see who you spoke with already and who to reach out to now.
So getting feedback from interviewers is the single most informative thing I have actually done with my own career. This feedback, you don't want to be pushy about it, not everyone who interviews you wants to follow up because it can feel like maybe you as the inter view ee will try to change their minds, but if somebody you've interviewed with does offer to give you feedback, does say we are happy to have a debriefing, take them up on that.
If they don't, maybe put together an anonymous survey and say, I would love your feedback. How did I do? Drop me a line if there is anything I can do better next time, this is a role I would love in the future, and any feedback helps me chapter the course for a role like this. Sometimes, people follow through on that. That feedback has been some of the most useful in my life.
At one point I interviewed for an engineering management role, and the feedback was we don't see you have experience resolving conflict between high-performance engineers. That let me know maybe I wasn't putting myself in a place where I was responsible for the few other people's collaborations, and maybe I needed to be taking on projects where I could do that more often. So that changed the sort of things I was looking for in my day to day. You might find something similar in your own experiences.
Now, this one is really key. You want to focus on what stories do you want to tell in interviews? If you've gone on enough interviews, you will start noticing that interviewing is just storytelling time tied with coding experiments and whiteboards. It's about telling stories, the projects you've worked on and the things that you've done.
Think about the stories you're telling, think about what managers want to see in these roles, and then maybe modify how you act at work, and the projects you're taking on. To match the kinds of stories you want to tell in your next round.
Ask yourself when you find yourself in a tough spot what kind of story do I want to tell in this situation when an interviewer tells me about the time I resolved conflict or when a project didn't go the way I wanted it to. How do I want to show up for that? When you're not thinking in terms of just this job but thinking in terms of how this impacts how you're going to be behaving in your next job, and how you're going to learn from it and pull through? Are you going to deliver on it anyway? You want to keep doing these things until you start getting offers.
When you start seeing offers coming in, you know that you've risen to the level you're seeking. You know that you're doing all right. You're going to start seeing different salary bands, getting a better idea of what you're worth. This is great. This is great because now you know exactly where you are. Interviews is like dating. 100%. All you can do is work on yourself, show up, and put your best foot forward. You can't control others. You can't chrome the market. It can't control bias, and that can be frustrating. It can be frustrating when there is a dream job out there but the people interviewing you don't think you're the right fit for this shaped hole.
[Sighs]. Oh, very frustrating. But I encourage you to focus on how you show up and just keep your own eyes on you. Like dating, you want to find people who see you, and you only want jobs where they actually need what you bring to the table. If people are not able to see you, they're self-selecting out. You wouldn't want to be in a marriage with somebody that doesn't find you attractive and doesn't want to be with you.
You don't want to work for people who don't take you seriously and don't see the value that you bring, and you don't want a job where they need somebody with different skill sets and they will be frustrated with you and you don't deserve that because you're awesome. When people reject you, they're not right for you. That is a fact. All right. Now it's time to figure out when is it a good time to quit? You're totally thinking, well when there is a clear signal I should be going, like maybe there are problems at work, or things aren't financially going well, or I've got a really big offer on the table. Slow your horses there. There is an art and a science to knowing when this is the right time to go and really senior people I've met have nailed it.
I will share with you what they shared with me. Ideally the best time to leave a role, a company, a team, anything, is on a high note. You want to go when things are amazing. You want to sell your stocks while they're high. You want to leave when you have a really just like knock ed it out the park. You want to leave the people behind wanting more.
You just delivered an amazing project, you just got promoted, you got a great review - these are all perfect times to consider jumping ship. If you've got a great offer coming in around this time, consider it. It is a little counterintuitive, you think you should stay and continue investing, but not always. Sometimes things going great it's a perfect time to try something new.
All right. Now for the more obvious. Let's dive a little deeper when it is definitely time to go. Sometimes, you are in a bad situation, and the water is slowly heating up but you don't realise you're boiling. Here are some tell-tale signs. You start to dislike the person that you are at work. H
ere's one: a sure-fire way to distinguish depression from burn-out, if you feel depressed at work but fine on holiday, you're maybe burning out. You notice signs of what I call in visible Leviathans: reorgs, management organ transplants, funding being moved around, which are signs there is a shake-up happening and if an amazing opportunity is crossing your path, you may prefer that change to the change that might be coming.
Management doesn't meet your KPIs, or any of your kill switches have been triggered. More on those later. Don't forget about your bonus. If you've decided it's time to get going, make sure you check the bonus schedules. Just around the corner, you might want to work on your timing, so you can still collect your bonus and say goodbye afterwards. You don't want to leave money on the table. You've been working hard. Make sure you get in there and get yours.
Okay, so let's say you've figured out it's a great time to move on. You've been having regular informationals, having interviews, you've got offers coming in on the regularly. What is next? How are you picking your next adventure? Choosing can be hard. Having a lot of great choices really makes the decision-making difficult.
So, first, you need to know where your personal compass is pointing. You don't want people outside your inner circle like hiring managers, recruiters, even your friends, influencing your destination with their own goals. You need to have your own set of goals. I call this the Drasner method. I asked Sarah Drasner, "How do you know what you want to do next?" Ask yourself these questions: who do I want to be working with, doing on a day-to-day basis, where do I want to live? What kind of salary do I want to make or growth potential, what kind of work/life balance do I want? Answer these questions ahead of time.
Now, have your own mission. Companies have missions. They want to serve a million people burgers, they want to provide hosting services to the world, and they want to connect everyone everywhere with their families and pets. You should have your own mission too. What is your mission? How does it align to the company's that are coming to you, their missions? For instance, one of my personal missions is to teach people, empower them, essentially, to solve their own problems, and, for me, when I joined the React team, I felt that teaching React to millions of developers would empower them to get great careers and build things to solve their own problems, and I feel really good about that work. There is a process for making decisions.
First, you gather information, then you conclude from this information. You come to a decision. And then you act. Now, if you get stuck at any one of these points, you need to back up to the previous one and do a little extra work.
If you're having trouble concluding, probably you need more information. What information do you lack? If you're stuck acting, you can't send an email probably because you haven't made a decision yet. You need to back up and re-evaluate your information. So let's get you that information that you need to sides up what these different chapters, these different adventures could look like.
First off, you will want to ask one of these wonderful companies that has asked to work with you if you could speak to someone like you both on the team currently and who has left the team. If they can't find somebody like that that they can point you towards, that's a flag. You would like to know that someone like you has succeeded at some point, or has good things to say. If there is no-one like you on or off the team, you know what statistics say about firsts.
Speaking of flags, there are more to look out for: if they're showing extreme excitement or concern about your social capital, like about how many followers you have on Twitter, or a little concerned about your blogging practices, you know, you really need to clarify what is theirs versus yours, what requires approval process, and just make sure if you have any sort of a following online, make sure that they're excited about you, and not just your audience.
I have, unfortunately, seen situations, and been in a through myself, that it was my Twitter follower account that people were evaluating and not me, and in a doesn't go anywhere good. Promises to grow the role. We're going to build a team around you. Yes, we've got plans to flesh out ... we're going to hire someone to take on that work. You won't be doing it all alone. It always falls through. How long could you do what they're asking you to do? Would you be happy? If you join as an individual contributor but really want to be a manager, would that make you happy?
Vice versa: if they say they need to you team-lead or manage but promise you can go back to individual contributorship at any time, is that for real? Hybrid rules! Unless you're working with a start-up, if you're offered the opportunity to join a company in a hybrid role, you want some clarity. Expect you're going to have to pick one or the other of these roles eventually. Eventually, you know, that is expected.
I, for instance, joined the developer advocate documentation engineer hybrid. I ended up leaning into documentation engineering because documentation really enables a lot of people to solve their own problems, and that aligns with my mission [winking sound]. Just be aware, though. Look out for situations where you feel you have to prove yourself when you get into the role. You have already proved yourself in the interview process.
They would not be hiring you otherwise. If you're feeling that kind of, "I will get in there and work real hard and prove them worthy of the role", back up, that is sign there is serious imposter syndrome going on and that can hamstring you and set you back in just how you deal with your co-workers, and how you believe in yourself. You've got to really believe in yourself in your new role network it work.
Trust your gut. You hear this all the time. But let me clarify this for you: if you have a bad feeling, you should really listen to that. Maybe the money is great and it will look great on your resume, but can you risk having a bad story to tell at your next interview cycle? FAANG companies like Amazon are okay with weeding out a couple of false negatives, maybe someone was an amazing engineer but they kind of botched a couple of those "tell me a story when" kind of interview questions.
They're fine with passing because hiring a person is really expensive. Firing a person is even more expensive. You want to make sure that you're hiring the right person. Sometimes that means you let someone go because they just didn't show up to the interview as well as the other guy.
You should be just as ruthless with employers. This is your lifespan. You're spending it on their mission and projects. If you get a bad feeling for whatever reason, trust it. Here are some good signs you want, and good signs are great, but also, if you're getting any bad signs, any bad gut feelings, don't listen to the good signs.
Over-index on the bad signs, because things can look great on paper, and you can have a really jazzed feeling about a team, but teams get reorged move on, and all co-workers will work somewhere else. Trust the bad feelings, but if you see some of these be aware of them. Does somebody who outranks you believe in you? You want somebody like at least a level above your manager saying, "Oh, my God, this person is amazing. Did you see what they did? Check it out." That is great.
It is great that you've buy-in at the top. It is great that people will be talking about you in decision-making conversations. Are there people who are more adept at you that you want to learn skills from. Are these people you wish you could be more like? Are they people who have more personality traits or work-life balance. We spend a lot of - a lot of personalities borrowing from each other, and that can be a great thing or bad thing. There is a saying if you crossed a cat and a man, it would improve the man but it would ruin the cat. Keep that one in mind.
Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. When you get your offer, you want to negotiate. Seriously, don't just take the offer at face value. I know it's hard to negotiate for a lot of us. We're not used to saying, "I think you can do better, that's great," but it is easier when you see other offers lining up, and you can see that one isn't quite as valuable as the other, and then you're able to come back and say I have another offer, I think I could say yes if you did this. You should be able to rustle up more than one offer at a time for this reason.
Regardless, you should check out fearlesssalarynegotiation.com. You can hire professional negotiators help you advocating for yourself. There was a talk earlier about buying back your time. I have found having a professional negotiator draft my emails for me really takes a lot of the labour out of this process for me and helps you personalise, like the company has a recruiter handling you.
It does not lie awake at night and think of you, it is someone's job to handle you. Make it someone's job to handle and land the company. You've got your info. Now it's time to decide, it's time to conclude. You could take all those values that you're working on earlier, your mission, et cetera, and add them to your spreadsheet and do a lot of complex calculations. I know a lot of people who have done that, and they don't feel great about the outcome.
Once again, feel your emotions. I highly recommend this. We can lean on numbers if you need a tie-break er. Here some questions to ask yourself. What are you going to be doing in six months? Imagine what you would actually deliver or accomplish in the next six months. Who are you going to work with? What praise or hardship can you expect? How is all that going to make you feel? Think about it again for twelve months. For 24 months.
Write these things down. Feel your gut. Would you take this bet? Imagine best and worst-case outcomes. Give yourself a percentage likelihood they're going to happen. It's 80% likely I would burn out in this role within two years given I haven't managed to hold down a role without burning out for longer than two years yet. Up know, that's actually a pretty safe bet to make.
Is this amount of change and upheaval worth making that bet? Are you going to be awarded for doing that? How do you feel about that? Does it deliver on your mission? How does this opportunity let you deliver on your personal mission? Does it? Will you get what you want? Your job is a trade.
Your lifespan, your irreplaceable finite lifespan on this planet in return for what? They get something out of you. You stair at an LCD all day and you solve problems in QA, you handle customers and design products. What do you get for that? Time that you could running in a field gathering tubers like our wild ancestors, time that you could spend working a lower stressed job.
Make sure that you know what you're coming in for, and that you're getting it. Don't sell yourself short for anything less. In jobs, as with relationships, if you're saying "they're great except" they're not, in fact, that great for you.
All right, hopefully asking these questions has helped you come to a conclusion. If not, go back to square one and gather more information. It may have more questions raise up in your mind and you need to revisit that info. When autograph conclusion, it's time to take action.
You will want to revisit these kill switches about the same time you do your interview cycling. I like to set these every time I join a new company. These are the things that, where if they happen, it's time to go. Ask yourself when you know it's going to be time to go. What are your hard boundaries. What lines do you refuse to cross? Maybe you will not work for this company if they do any kind of work with the military, or if you count that you're working more than 50 hours a week, or 40 hours a week. Make sure you know what your hard lines are. Write them down. Make sure you're measuring them. Don't slip up.
What do you expect to see in six months and 12 months, and 24 months? How are you going to know that these things have been delivered on, that this pact between you and your manager is being honoured and upheld? And, of course, how does your mission align with the company's? You might start with an aligned mission, but maybe you end up moved into a different role. You find out that that role does not align with your personal mission. This should feel automatic.
If your switches are triggered, you should start to evaluate those opportunity in your spreadsheet on principle. This is not personal, it is just business. And whenever you find yourself feeling guilty about something, make sure that you just tell yourself you're doing this on principle, a magic phrase that you can use for so much.
Yes, I'm following through about this weird credit charge on principle. Ah, yes, I don't go out drinking out after nine on principle. Oh, it's great! Key performance indicators are things that are used a lot in product management. Guess what, you can also use them with your company.
There is a wonderful format called BICEPS, a model that you can actually use to talk to your manager about how you're finding your work fulfilling and engaging. It covers your sense of belonging, improvement, choice, equality, predictability, and significance.
I have a little form that I fill out every six months to track these. If you see a trend going down, it is definitely something that you should keep in mind on. It might mean it's time to move on. Put up a little handy template for you there of the same form. So these are ways that you can know when it is time to go after you've made this decision, and you joined this company, keep track on these things.
Time to say goodbye, and something important to remember when you do decide it is time to move on. Almost always, except in posting big long posts about what you're going to be doing next, it is to post a recap of what you're proud of having already done. Future employers love to see this because it shows what you did in your previous roam, and you show that you are leaving with only the best intentions and the best stories to tell. This is a great track record and a great way to publicise it.
I know we love to focus on this is what I'm going to do next, what I'm going to deliver and who I'm joining, and I've been deeply embarrassed by some of the old posts I made in the past when the thing I was hired to deliver wasn't what I actually delivered. Always focus on what you've done before, and then mention you're excited about going on to the things that is coming next. This is the proper way to do it.
Celebrate your wins. Speaking of ending and new beginnings, I'm working on a possible book about surviving and succeeding in big tech for people who don't come from a computer science or MBA background. There are a lot of us out there. You can check it out at that URL, and you will find links to all. Slides links at that URL as well. Catch me on Twitter as well under @RachelNabors. I wish you the best of luck in your next role. There will be a next one, and a next one, and a next one! You will find them all amazing and have great stories to tell.