The Real Reasons You Can’t Find a Job in Tech

Some people have problems landing a suitable job in tech. Again and again, they meet the requirements of a particular position, and say all the right things during the interview, only to receive a rejection email a few days later (if they hear anything at all). They can’t figure out what’s wrong.

If you’re doing everything right, then you should persevere—sometimes it can take many months to land a new job, even if you have the right combination of skills. But if any of the scenarios below apply to you, it may be time to change your job-hunting approach.

You Struggle with Algorithms

Even if you demonstrate mastery of an in-demand programming language such as Java, Scala or Python, employers are looking to hire software engineers and programmers who possess the ability to master the algorithms that power evolving technologies such as machine learning. So unless you’re able to solve a series of difficult algorithmic problems, most firms are unlikely to give you an offer.

“Most companies view a solid foundation in data structures and algorithms as a sign of intelligence and a fundamental requirement for learning new languages or adding a new skill to your toolbox,” explained Gayle Laakmann McDowell, founder and CEO of CareerCup.com and author of the “Cracking the Coding Interview.”

As McDowell pointed out, even tech pros without CS degrees can usually master algorithmic concepts and enhance their marketability with a few weeks of intensive study and practice. So that’s good news.

You’re a Jack of all Trades, Master of None

Do you market yourself as a generalist who knows multiple programming languages? Painting your abilities with a broad brush can backfire, noted John Sonmez, founder and CEO of Simple Programmer and author of “The Complete Software Developer’s Career Guide.”

“Most managers want to hire a specialist who knows the lead programming language or framework inside and out,” Sonmez explained. “Knowing other languages is a plus, but you’ll open more doors and land more offers by positioning yourself as an expert [in a select number of things].”

You Come Across as the “MacGyver” of Programmers

Being a resourceful, creative problem-solver is a plus. But unless you also demonstrate a penchant for precision and the fundamentals of writing clean code during interviews, you risk coming across as a “MacGyver-like” programmer who focuses more on the end results than how the code works.

In other words, if you unintentionally convey the attitude that “any old thing will do,” you’ll keep getting the boot.

You Argue with the Interviewer

If you disagree with the opinions of the interviewer, it’s certainly okay to speak up and express yourself—politely but confidently. Just remember to pick your battles and fight for what matters. After all, you could be right as rain from a technical standpoint, but what does it matter if you don’t have a steady paycheck?

You Give Up on Problems Too Soon

Many tech pros, especially newbies, convey a lack of confidence during interviews. They incorrectly assume that others are more competent, when that’s not necessarily the case.

McDowell suggests, for instance, that insecure programmers often give up too quickly on difficult problems during whiteboard exams. If you run into an unexpected challenge, don’t throw in the proverbial towel; ask for feedback and keep going. Remember, confidence is a skill that can be learned and nurtured over time.

You Don’t Seem Passionate

Aside from technical skills, passion is the top attribute that employers look for when they hire tech pros. To prove that you don’t have a “nine-to-five mentality,” point to side projects and examples of your work that illustrate your drive and willingness to go above and beyond.

They’re Just Not That into You

Maybe you didn’t come across as someone who would fit in with the team, or perhaps the hiring manager wasn’t exactly blown away by your coding abilities during a test. Hey, it happens.

Many tech pros are experiencing a market where companies complain about the talent shortage; but at the same time, they’re being very selective. “Everyone’s looking to hire the top 20 percent,” Sonmez noted.

What’s the solution? Research shows that being referred for an open position by a current employee can eliminate internal doubt and tip the scales in your favor. Sometimes, a little nudge like that is all it takes to land the position you want.

29 Responses to “The Real Reasons You Can’t Find a Job in Tech”

    • Rich in Colorado

      All of the identified “reasons” are techniques that the hiring process use to filter out candidates given the oversupply. Why are referrals so important? You first offer jobs to your friends. Then you eliminate anybody for whom you will be criticized for pitching. Next, you have a choice: Hire somebody just like yourself because you’ll like being around them, or try to find somebody who will benefit you (either a superstar who will drag you along with him, or somebody with complementary qualities that allow your contributions to be more effective).

  1. I agree with your comment Joe and I would also like to add that Tech firms want you to have every skill and certification under your belt and yet only offer you chump change as compensation. People have a life outside of work and should be able to feel free from the onslaught of never-ending learning. I look forward to learning and everyday challenges but not to constantly subjecting myself to 365 days worth of obtaining certifications

  2. I experienced months of frustration as well, but stuck with it. I had so many interviews where it seemed I was the perfect fit. My advice has to do with passion. And if you’re passionate, you write code and build websites because you like doing it. When I went to interview, I showed them my sites and talked about what I used to build them. Instead of fielding a bunch of questions, we talked about what I can do, and it became a fun exchange.

  3. I agree with most of the points here, but this statement: “So unless you’re able to solve a series of difficult algorithmic problems, most firms are unlikely to give you an offer,” is completely absurd. There are PLENTY of programmer jobs out there that require no mastery of algorithms, especially at staffing firms.

  4. Jason Shatz

    I happen to be an alum of a boot-camp, and I have built an app and studied more languages since. It seems as if the barriers for entry-level positions, especially for those who do not have CS degrees, are more difficult to overcome. Given the demand for tech talent, one would think that it would be easier to get your foot in the door as long as you show the willingness and capacity to learn on the fly. After all, updates in the industry come constantly and rapidly.

    This may be a relatively new field, but applicants face a classic paradox: you need experience to get the job, but you need a job to get experience! I believe that the successful tech companies of the future will be those that take full advantage of the spirit, drive, and capacities of novices as well as more learned practitioners.

  5. Roscoe Worsley

    You have everything the employer wants, you can feel it. They call you in for the final “discussion” after the background check and drug test….. You are 54 years old. Game Over Man. I have had a LOT of interviews where it is down to final discussion time, they have run the background check (mine is squeaky clean I have seen it) The hiring manager sees you are 54 (probably for the first time via BG check) and suddenly they tell you that they have another candidate who seems to fit better with the team better than you do. Don’t tell me companies do not discriminate based on age. They ALL do. I am surprised that they get so far as being ready to offer me the job before they notice my age.

    • I feel for you, Roscoe. I’m about your age and my brother is 10 years older. He’s experiencing the same thing. New experience and lower wage expectations trump experienced, senior candidates.

  6. Mike Huggler

    Jason, some good points. I was near 50, and wondered if anyone would want to hire such an old, ‘entry level’ developer. One thing that really helped me was finding a mentor (on Craigslist!). He was a senior developer who showed me what goes on in a pretty typical business environment. An hour spent with him for $25-$35 was far, far more valuable than any certification bootcamp, which costs lots more.

  7. It often seems that everybody’s looking to hire the cheapest 20%! At least, when I meet the ones who did get hired, I know damned well they aren’t the best 20%. Often, they’ve lied to get the job because the hiring managers can’t read foreign language transcripts, but still want cheap talent.

  8. Lawrence Weinzimer

    There are thiose who made it into the equivalent of the Who’s Who programming while serving at IBM with no degree level education. Why ? They were experts at algoriths. Know what you’re good at, not merely what your passion is.

  9. Billy Bob Johnson

    Ageism.

    If you’re over 40, don’t try to leave your current job unless you’re ready to hang yourself/shoot someone. NO ONE will hire you (most assuredly for those over 50).

    I cannot wait for the day when the government stops listening to CEOs and completely eliminates ALL work visa programs. If not that, then at least the H-1B, the scourge of the American IT worker.

    If you’re in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, please go home. We need jobs here more than you do. Sorry for being harsh, but that’s the reality and truth today. Go home.

  10. Most of those jobs advertised are only to get green cards for friends and relatives of HM. They interview the person like yourself and send the information to department of labor, that we had interviewed many disqualified people for the job and we think their relatives are the most qualified person for the job which is not true. I had many of those interviews, complaining to labor department and finally give up. I hope they put a new laws in department of labor to re-review all those in un lawful green cards obtained in last 8 years.

  11. everything cost money these days including hiring firing and looking for persons qualified for a position if people qualify for the position and they know how to do the job then they should be given opportunity to work there and make money for the company and themselves seems like companies are just looking for people that can handle these algorithms for a tie or something like that this is very discouraging and I’m about to just go ahead and throw in the towel to find something worth wild instead of running around trying to compete with hundreds of thousands of people that are not even qualified with hands-on experience

  12. I think the biggest reason is that USA is full of H!-B visa holders who drive down the cost of wages for domestic IT experts and fill a ton of jobs. One of my best friends has a CCNA in R&S and cannot find a job. He isn’t even asking for that much. These companies would rather resort to legal slave labor. I am excited to see what Trump can do to not only help American IT professionals, but also what he can do to help H1-B visa holders who are being taken advantage of by major corporations.

  13. Most all of this article is geared toward programming. Any ideas about the other areas of IT?Nearly all of this article is geared toward programmers having trouble find jobs. Any ideas about the other areas of IT? Those do exist, you know.

    (And what’s the deal with the gray80 on white text in the response form. Shees!)

  14. Passion is the opposite of dispassionate, meaning you approach things objectively and with logic, not emotionally. Suggesting you should be passionate to be a programmer is like suggesting you should wear mittens to be a concert pianist.

    • HeroStar

      Me “Suggesting you should be passionate to be a programmer is like suggesting you should wear mittens to be a concert pianist.”- If you REALLY believe that not having passion makes you. a better programmer then I’ve got some bad news for you. Having passion is why a lot of people become programmers in the first place (see Brian Kernighan). Ive heard a lot of people call programming a hobbyist profession in that people are in it just to learn things.Something can’t be a passion if its your hobby.

  15. peter m

    OMG Who write these silly articles. Workers will have their revenge if and when the economy improves to the point where there are really not enough workers to fill the demands of employers. In a better economy, I had employers calling and begging me to do their work. Now I have meet a laundry list of silly quirks and make certain I don’t say this or do that, less I offend some some dweeb called a hiring manager who would be sitting home in their underwear in a different era.

    • Rich in Colorado

      My guess is that the economy for developers won’t improve. I remember how hot the business was during the dot com boom. But the H1B visa program has killed salary growth. There is a supply of workers that have been “aged” out or “current skilled out” that could be utilized if they were needed. Then there is the CS college graduates who didn’t jobs, that could move back into the field if things were good. Couple this with all of the Indians getting educated in this, and all of the teenagers being urged to learn coding. My guess is things will just go from bad to work. Finally, there will breakthroughs that will allow tasks that formerly required coding that will just take care of themselves. Think telephone operators making connections vs just selecting who you call from your list of contacts.

  16. Rajdeep Chakarwaty

    I am starting to learn Javascript, CSS and HTML coding at age 35. i am in india and I have lost my job in a call center. The call center had a client from UK but client took business away and it got shut down. Now I cant find any job in any call center because there are few call centers left in India. Most of them have gone to other cheaper destinations. I did not anticipate this kind of situation. I am constantly getting rejected in job interviews. Interviewers and HR managers are not willing to employ me as they are getting plenty of college grads fresh out college, universities. Many managers have turned down right rude and refused to offer me a job because I am too old for the job. I am desperate and I want to add some skills to my resume so I can at least get a fighting chance. I am the only earning member of my family and I am not even married. I support my parents and siblings with my salary income and now I am worried sick. I came here to get gain some confidence but feel even more depressed after reading the comments.
    If this is the situation in US, imagine the reality in India!

    • I am sorry to hear this, Rajdeep. Your situation has been exacerbated by your culture and the Chinese culture. Specifically, the incessant need to procreate. Clearly too many people is not good for a country, or the rest of the world for that matter. China and India have produced an oversupply of people in the IT world. US outsourcing and the importing of foreign labor has led to a drop in IT salaries. US companies demand that candidates fulfill every item in their laundry list. They just assume that with all of the candidates out there, someone will eventually come up. If not, they complain that they can’t find qualified people. Then the US government allows more people to be imported. I’m sorry to say, those be the facts.

  17. WhoGivesAratsAss

    With 15 years experience in my language, anybody stupid enough to ask me to take a test or write code on a white board is disqualified by me. Having designed and written software that the US Navy, John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, and other companies are using, some interviewers are unable to deduce that I know what I’m doing. I have worked for small, private companies and multinational ones. One common theme that I have seen is garbage code. Code that makes you think, “Did a history major write this stuff?” And everybody has bought into the scam that is agile development, so systems documentation is laughed at. The youth of today is being brainwashed into thinking that agile is the be-all end-all way to do things and don’t know any better. It’s all rush, rush, rush, are you done with that yet? Well written code with its requisite systems documentation are a thing of the past. Two or three week scrums have killed creativity and force engineers to go with the first algorithm that works, regardless of how ugly the code is.

  18. I am 45 years old (I look 35) and applying for junior level positions. Should I give up and pursue a different field? I have a CS degree. I was working in the automotive industry for 15 years until the recession and everything went belly up. So I went to college and earned a degree in CS. Now I am trying to get a junior level job. But after reading everyone’s comments maybe I should not even try.

  19. I have 18 years experience in the field and have worked in business ranging from startups to government. I have a CCNA, MCITP, MCSE. I have a BS in management information systems and AAS in Computer Networking. I have been unemployed for 6 years and have applied to over 2000 positions and had no offers. Not sure what the deal is with the IT field. Any thoughts?