IT careers: 7 pandemic job-hunting mistakes to avoid

A new class of job-hunting mistakes has cropped up during the pandemic, recruiters and IT leaders say.  Use this advice to successfully make your next IT career move
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Plenty of job-hunting advice is timeless. Don’t take out your phone and answer a personal call during an interview; don’t misspell the hiring manager’s name in your cover letter; don’t be dishonest. These tips are all just as true in the Zoom age as they were before.

A new class of job-hunting mistakes, however, has cropped up during the past year, according to multiple IT leaders and recruiters. And these missteps will likely continue to be an issue for IT job hunters for the foreseeable future, especially with remote work positions poised to become a permanent facet of some segments of the business world.

7 IT job-hunting mistakes to beware

If you’re on the market or will be soon, watch out for these pitfalls – they could slow down (or stall out completely) the search for your next desirable position. Let’s dig in.

Mistake #1: Treating the "Apply" button like a "Panic!" button

Caitlyn Metteer, recruiting lead at Lever, notes a common mistake being made by technology candidates during the pandemic: applying anywhere and everywhere. Metteer even sees a related pitfall: Applying to multiple positions at the same firm, using the exact same application materials.

Applying everywhere you find a loosely relevant position is usually counterproductive – more so now than ever.

There are visible reasons why this is happening. First, it’s relatively easy to apply for a job online these days. Once your basic materials such as your resume are ready, it might be tempting to simply start firing away at the “Apply Now” links. Second, this temptation can be even greater for someone who has recently lost their job. Fear naturally and quickly sets in, and you treat your search like a numbers game instead of a strategic plan.

But applying everywhere you find a loosely relevant position is usually counterproductive – more so now than ever.

“While applicants have time to rethink their career path or evaluate if their current company is best supporting their needs, it’s important to keep in mind that more competition now exists for each available role,” Metteer says. “Now candidates should be even more selective and personal when approaching recruiters, hiring managers, and open positions.”

[ Get prepared. Read also: How to spot a great software developer: 7 interview questions and 10 top DevOps engineer interview questions for 2021 .]

There are also more initial guardrails in place to cull resumes from consideration before a recruiter does even a cursory initial review. So slow down: The “apply now” button on a corporate ATS or jobs site is not a panic button.

“It’s easy to panic-apply to every job you’re remotely interested in when hunting for a role in a pandemic,” says Anne Campbell, a global HR advisor, coach, and recruiter who recently joined the business development team at DigitalGrads. “But so many companies use keyword sifting to sort through CVs, so if you don’t use the exact terminology of the job description on your CV, you don’t have a chance.”

[ Beat the screen. Related read: How to get your resume past Artificial Intelligence (AI) screening tools: 5 tips ]

Instead, tailor your resume and other application materials for each position you apply for. Cast a wide net, sure – just don’t try to fish every ocean across the globe.

“Rather than apply to every job you see, it’s far better to take your time and tweak your CV before every application,” Campbell says. “Be sure to highlight the key skills that the company is looking for and include them on your CV. Panic-applying to technical jobs will get you nowhere!”

Also, remember that the pandemic has brought some level of disruption and uncertainty to just about everyone, including the folks sitting on the other side of the interview table, Metteer adds.

“How you approach your job hunt says a lot about your expectations as an employee, so in an environment of uncertainty and upheaval, find a way to convey your adaptability, highlight your soft skills that make you best suited for the role, and be thoughtful and selective about each role you’re applying for,” Metteer says.

Mistake #2: Accepting a lowball offer

You also shouldn’t let fear guide your salary expectations. These remain uncertain times, but accepting an offer well below your market value usually isn’t the best solution.

"I know a lot of talented IT people who took bad offers because they were scared about their future, and it caused a lot of problems."

“I know a lot of talented IT people who took bad offers because they were scared about their future, and it caused a lot of problems for them and the industry as a whole,” says Akram Assaf, CTO at Bayt, a job search site focused on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

This is a tough mistake to avoid if you’ve lost your job (or are worried about imminent layoffs), and everyone has to consider their personal circumstances. But keep in mind while hiring has slowed to varying degrees around the world, IT salaries have not necessarily gone down.

“When COVID-19 first hit Europe, ‘business as usual’ was completely disrupted, but the virus doesn’t seem to have impacted developer salaries,” Dr. Philipp Goos, CEO at Honeypot.io, a software developer jobs site in Europe.

There was indeed a significant dip in developer hires on Honeypot’s site in April 2020, when COVID shutdowns had become widespread. But Goos notes that average salaries have actually continued to rise. Moreover, hiring is trending upward again. IT talent still has negotiating power.

[ Would you stay in your current job if you got a raise? Read also: How to ask for a raise in 2021: 5 tips. ]

Mistake #3: On the flip side, developing unrealistic salary expectations

Lowball offers are bad. Moonshot salary goals can also be problematic, particularly for fully remote positions. Hiring managers are tapping a larger pool of potential candidates when recruiting for remote roles, because they’re no longer beholden to their local area (or to paying relocation costs.)

“Companies are also working through compensation structures during the pandemic and understanding what is equitable given the various locations people are in now that talent pools have expanded,” Metteer says.

Organizations are trying to figure out the balance between the corporate location and an individual’s location.

Organizations are trying to figure out the balance between the corporate location and an individual’s location. A lot of the coverage of this WFH trend has focused on the employer’s location – a company based in San Francisco, for example, but that is hiring people who live in areas with much lower costs of living.

But that’s not the only potential dynamic in play in your negotiations. Cliff Milles, lead technical recruiter at Sungard Availability Services, lists a separate-but-related misstep he sees candidates make: “Expecting a high cost of living salary if they live in a high cost of living area, but the job is located elsewhere.”

In general, Milles thinks the “playing hard to get” approach is going to cost some candidates, no matter how in-demand their skills, potential opportunities for the foreseeable future. (Again, keep in that employers have more options if they’re hiring fully remote positions.)

“Decide whether you’re actually interested in a job – it’s not a good time to have recruiters chase you,” Milles says.

Location isn’t the only compensation factor, either. The characteristics of the organization itself matter, so treating salary in particular as something that is uniformly consistent is likely to lead to frustration.

“Not all technology/IT jobs pay in the same compensation ranges,” says Christine Chung, lead recruiter at Fueled. “Some corporations have a lot of money to use on various resources, including hiring, but have very different growth trajectories compared to smaller organizations. Startups tend to pay a lot of cash up front but lack job security in the long run. Small boutique agencies tend to be more cash conservative, [but] usually have good benefits such as 401(k) match programs, and tend to be less risk-averse.”

Mistake #4: Treating "remote" as "any location goes"

Milles and other recruiters also see a widening pitfall for IT pros who treat “remote” as an “anything goes’’ proposition. That’s not how most organizations – at least those that won’t be nightmare employers, anyway – are treating it. Milles says that taking remote “a little too literally” isn’t advisable – applying for a position where your immediate teammates are on the other side of the globe (and in a far different time zone) probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, for example.

The next year-plus is likely to reveal a lot about the future of work; which companies and industries will resume traditional office operations when it is deemed safe to do so, for example? Which firms are likely to keep at least some positions fully remote forever? And so forth. If you’re on the job market, it’s important to have a clear sense of what environment you prefer, and approach your search accordingly.

“The biggest pitfall that people sometimes face is answering honestly: can I work remotely?” says Matt Deres, SVP and CIO at Rocket Software. “It sounds like a simple question to ask, but many people have to consider if they have the right environment, one in which they’re able to work undisturbed and truly get involved in different aspects of the role.”

Most IT executives and recruiters seem to agree: It’s not a great idea to apply for a fully remote position if you know you want to get back to a traditional office setting when it is deemed safe to do so, and vice versa.

“Although WFH is very commonplace nowadays within tech environments, some of these open positions are not permanently remote,” Chung says. “It’s important to figure out logistical info in advance to make sure this job even makes sense for you and your area/time zone.”

Let's examine three more tips to apply:

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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