Of all the things that can be said about getting a job in tech, there’s a universal truth that resonates with every candidate: the process seems to take forever.
But why? Many technologists voice frustration about the length of interviews, or how they never hear back from a recruiter or hiring manager despite having the qualifications for a job. Some positions never seem to be filled, either, no matter how many times a candidate applies.
We spoke with Leidos recruiter Heather Nguyen to find out why the tech interview process really takes so long, and how you can navigate the difficult terrain and land the job you’re targeting.
Why the Tech Interview Process Takes So Long
“Some positions have stringent requirements,” Nguyen said. “Clients can be inflexible at times about their candidate requirements.”
To illustrate, Nguyen brought up a recent search for a network engineer. This role featured a myriad of technical and program specific requirements. Moreover, it was in support of a defense customer, meaning a lot of legacy technology and direct environment intricacies that candidates had to understand. On top of all that, the hiring process for government (and government contractors) often moves more slowly, which can make candidates nervous.
Requirements and corporate inertia aside, multiple people often have to sign off on a candidate moving forward in the hiring process. Those people often have other demands on their time, meaning they can’t always respond as quickly as recruiters and candidates would like. “Hiring managers and technical teams are not always able to give prompt feedback,” Nguyen noted, adding that it’s often a matter of competing schedules and agendas that delay the interview and hiring process.
Résumé Deal Breakers to Avoid
“People think they can’t go over two pages with their résumés,” Nguyen said. “They don’t need to worry about this anymore, especially at the senior level.”
Rather than cull your résumé to one or two pages, senior-level tech candidates should take the time to curate a thoughtful, expressive résumé. There are limits, however: Nguyen has seen résumés as long as 20 pages, which is comprehensive but way too lengthy.
No matter what the position or your background, when it comes to your résumé, it’s always most effective to display your experience and skills in the best possible light, Nguyen advised. Don’t be afraid to go into detail about what you did, and how your work helped your team and company succeed. At the same time, take care to avoid generalized jargon—recruiters and hiring managers tend to ignore “buzzword bingo.”
It’s also important to craft your résumé to the needs and goals of the position. Highlight your skills that overlap with the job requirements. Demanding hiring managers always want candidates who can integrate relatively seamlessly with existing teams, and who can help push the company’s roadmap forward from day one.
When It Comes to Soft Skills, Read the Room
When it comes to government contractors, Nguyen told Dice that finding a candidate who can read the room and respond appropriately is crucial. While technical skills always matter, so does the ability to communicate effectively with non-technical teammates and leadership. In other words, “soft skills” such as communication and empathy will always help you stand out in a crowded job market.
Nguyen added that a candidate should be able to communicate clearly and effectively with high-ranking executives while remaining truthful, transparent, and professional. Someone who can demonstrate their ability to diplomatically make recommendations for improvements may score points in the interview process and carry that through to the job itself. During such discussions, it’s always key to emphasize how any suggestions could potentially improve the overall project—that you are looking to contribute to the overall success, working within the customer’s framework.
No matter what the industry, technologists can leverage their soft skills to land the gig and prosper in the job. During the job interview process, make sure to tell stories about times that you used your soft skills to help a project succeed. Emphasize your ability to convey nuance, and how you prize transparency.
It’s also important to not only explain things, but listen to others’ needs and concerns. Inviting questions and discussion endears you to leadership… and will ultimately earn their trust.
How to Interview Remotely
These days, the majority of job interviews are still handled remotely. Nguyen suggests that you expect to speak to everything in the job requirements—and be prepared to speak to multiple people across different departments. Remote interviews could mean you’re booked for multiple conversations within a short period of time, in addition to providing verification of certifications and samples of your work.
These interviewers will have unique queries; you could end up hopping from technical talk in one interview to fielding questions from an HR representative about how you may fit in culturally. Before sitting down for an interview, review your application materials and make sure you can speak to everything in your past, including your previous jobs, projects, and skills.
Faced with so many required qualifications and customer specific “wants”, there’s a high likelihood that you won’t know everything that a hiring manager or a potential teammate asks you..and that’s okay! Nguyen says being open to learning is critical; admitting a shortcoming in your overall knowledge, while expressing interest in learning, can score you valuable points. Where you lack knowledge or experience, let the team know you are eager to dive into the discipline.
How Much of a Chance Do You Really Have?
Nguyen’s recent hiring for a defense client with stringent requirements offers valuable insight into the overall hiring process. The job posting garnered around 50 applications (when it comes to talent, the world of defense is a limited pool, mostly due to security clearances and bespoke skills required by clients and hiring managers); of those, roughly 30 candidates were dismissed immediately for lacking the proper security clearances.
Of the remaining 20, about half were suitable candidates. They had applicable experience, and many had supported defense clients in previous roles. And out of that 20, Nguyen sent six through the full interview process after discussing the role with them. That decision was based on how well they spoke to their previous experience and demonstrated technical acumen.
All told, candidates had a two percent chance of being hired, and a 12 percent chance of even making it through to the full interview process. That’s daunting, true, but this was a limited pool of candidates with specialized experience, industry certifications and proper security clearance. For a more general role (say, front-end web developer for a well-known Silicon Valley company), you may end up competing in a far larger pool, but it’s also more likely that you’ll have the combination of skills that the employer wants.
Ultimately, your chances hinge on how well you can show that you’re a good match for the company doing the hiring. If you’re diligent in preparing your résumé, and you sit down for the interview with ready answers about your background and skills, chances are good that you could progress through multiple interviewing rounds and land the job.