My Job Search During a Pandemic: I Accepted an Offer (And What an Amazing Interview Experience!)

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In my career, I’ve interviewed enough times to know how pleasant or awful the experience can be.

What exactly defines good vs. bad? For me, good means the hiring team approaches the “getting to know me, the candidate,” as a human. Interview questions are mostly conversational and not scripted. There are no time-consuming assignments to complete.

Bad interviews make me feel like I’m just a number. These interviews tend to follow a strict list of questions and the folks asking the questions are sometimes inexperienced.

So when I recently accepted a job offer at gaming tech company AppLovin (hooray!), I was delighted by the experience from the first conversation to the verbal offer.

If you’re searching for jobs right now — I have a few tips that may help you get discovered and put your profile ahead of others. (More on that below.)

I also hope that recruiters (in-house and external) will read this and understand:

  • What makes candidates such as myself get excited about an opportunity
  • How to best approach candidates on LinkedIn

3 takeaways: When searching for jobs is your job

Before I gush about what happened with AppLovin, I want to share some discoveries from the last three months while I searched for jobs.

By month two and three, discouragement set in, even though I was making it to final rounds of interviews.

I had a few panic-stricken moments about my finances and and and… would I ever find a job?!

I learned three things during this time:

  1. Time goes by really fast when you’re not working so I made sure to apply to every new job I was qualified for.
  1. Companies moved slowly with the hiring process (due to employees working from home and in general, being choosy with candidates).
  1. The job market is fiercely competitive now more than ever, especially with coronavirus and massive layoffs. It seemed like every open rec had hundreds of applicants.

By the numbers: My job hunt

I keep detailed records on my Google calendar and use a free time tracking tool called Toggl to keep track of my projects and tasks.

Here are some numbers from April to June:

  • 1 month: Average timeline from first conversation with recruiter to final interview
  • 66 hours: Tweaking resume, talking to recruiters, researching companies, interviewing on Zoom
  • 10: Recruiters I spoke with
  • 3: Final round of interviews with companies
    • 1 rejection
    • 1 offer
    • 1 company that never responded after my final interview
If you’ve never used a time tracking tool before, I highly recommend trying Toggl. It helps you stay focused when you work and dare I say, more productive?

The non-generic email that caught my eye on LinkedIn

I’m fortunate enough in my career where recruiters reach out to me almost daily on LinkedIn. I’ve come to recognize the generic, copy-paste message about some tech giant who wants to hire someone like me for a content role.

In early June, I received an email from AppLovin’s recruiter Meaghan. This is what caught my attention:

You would lead the content program – so tons of opportunity for growth (and lots of writing!). 

Please know that the hiring manager for this role found your profile on LinkedIn and specifically asked me to reach out – so she is super interested! 🙂 If this is something you might be interested in, let’s have a chat! 

Normally, recruiters don’t look through my profile carefully enough to understand what I do, which is content strategy, long-form content, and writing. Meaghan’s email surprised me. I felt like, wow, she knows I like to write!

Not only that, the hiring manager took the time to read my blogs and look through my writing samples. She got to know me through my writing before even talking to me.

No joke, I talked to Meaghan almost every other day after she had initially reached out. She mostly called or texted to check in with me to see how the Zoom interviews went.

The entire process was fast — about two weeks from first call to the offer.

I wasn’t asked canned interview questions

Speaking to the team at AppLovin felt very natural, conversational, and relaxed. A lot of questions were laser focused on how I’d strategically handle the demands of the role based on my soft skills (AKA working style).

I also gave more color around my past experience and even answered a few questions about previous blog posts I had written — since these highlight problems and important milestones in my life.

Too many Zooms

One company I interviewed with felt the need to loop in every single team member. As a result, I was thrown into a tizzy of people who asked variations of the same questions. I felt like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”

I couldn’t recall who asked what or how I had answered the questions since they were all so similar.

Some interviewers didn’t bother digging deeper with follow-up questions after I had responded. They’d simply nod and respond, “Cool, cool.” Perhaps they were inexperienced, or maybe I just didn’t answer the questions as they had expected.

Other interviewers talked the whole time about their role, rather than asking about me.

With AppLovin, I met with exactly four people — the core team. I even met with the hiring manager twice rather than Zoomin’ with more people.

I didn’t have to turn in an assignment

Because I create content strategies and write, companies will sometimes assign homework. These are often intricate assignments that would otherwise be considered real work and would take more than a few days to complete.

I once spent a week on a writing assignment for a very well-known tech company only to be cut immediately for a minor detail they failed to include in the brief. I cried tears of frustration for that one.

I was both relieved and grateful that AppLovin didn’t require an assignment and I even told Meaghan how much I appreciated that. Her response made perfect sense.

“Claire, that’s what your websites are for. Your writing samples show exactly what kind of work you’ve completed and what you’re capable of. It gave us a better understanding of your level of experience. Now, why would we make you do an assignment?”

It’s not the end of the world if a potential employer asks you to complete an assignment. However, my advice is to ask a lot of questions so you understand exactly what it entails and why.

This Slate article about this topic says: “It’s reasonable to ask candidates to spend an hour or two demonstrating their skills; it’s not reasonable to ask them to complete complex projects, at least not without pay.”

If you’re still looking for a job these are some tips to get noticed

While you search for jobs, set aside some time to create a website to showcase your portfolio and experience.

I have two websites — ClaireTak.com is my professional one that I made when I was a consultant in 2017. ClairesHoliday.com is about travel and personal growth.

You certainly do not need to create blog posts if writing isn’t your jam.

Your site could be a one-pager that explains what you’ve accomplished in your career. It could also be an easy way to showcase your best work. Think of it as your resume, but lengthier. Also, try to write conversationally so it’s easy to understand.

A website may also allow you to shorten your resume. You could link to your website from your resume if a recruiter wants to learn more.

My website goals

When I created my sites, I wasn’t concerned about traffic or click through rates. But I would occasionally share blogs on LinkedIn if it was relevant.

The goal was to highlight my writing (mostly in the form of op-eds) to help give substance to me as a person. After all, at the end of the day, hiring managers and companies simply want to understand who you are and how well you’ll jive with the rest of the team.

Ask for help

If you’re not getting calls from jobs you apply to, ask a friend or colleague to critique your resume.

Check out online resources (Ramit Sethi is a good one) and YouTube videos like this one to learn more about improvements you can make to your resume.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard these are reasons recruiters or hiring managers sometimes pass on candidates based on what they see in resumes:

  • Hopping around/too many jobs (i.e., 1 year here, six months there): Can you remove irrelevant jobs that may not paint a cohesive picture of your career?
  • Too many random job titles: Can you keep some kind of consistency with titles?
  • Not showing enough of what your accomplished: Use plenty of action words and provide data around your accomplishments (i.e., traffic went up 40 percent, sales improved in Q2 by 35 percent because you did X)
  • Your resume is too long and the details are irrelevant: You don’t need to list every single administrative task (i.e., Managed weekly reports). Instead, focus on what you achieved for the company by managing those weekly reports.

5 quick LinkedIn tips

  1. Ask for recommendations from previous managers and colleagues.
  2. Make it a goal to connect with at least 10 people every day in your field and industry.
  3. Update your LinkedIn profile settings to show you’re actively looking for jobs.
  4. Sign up for new job alerts to show up in your inbox.
  5. Look through companies your friends work for and ask them to submit your resume.

A pandemic may force you to change your life, but that’s a good thing

Death, societal changes, systemic racism and a new virus to watch out for… it’s a great time to step back and assess what’s important. Now is the best time to start a new chapter, no?

Coronavirus is forcing us to look at our current work and life situation. It’s making some of us strive for something better.

Feeling supported and motivated

The interviews with AppLovin’s team gave me a very positive glimpse into the culture and company. I also felt valued for what I bring to the table as a marketing professional.

I don’t have unrealistic expectations for this role. There will never be enough hours in the day and it will be demanding, challenging, and sometimes frustrating.

But I walk into it knowing that I’m on a team that won’t let me fall, and therefore, I feel motivated to do my best.

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