The Job Hunt Process and Lessons in Networking

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After over a year of unemployment, and the recent completion of my Data Analytics boot camp, I’ve submitted an increasing number of job applications. I’m also dealing with waiting on EDD to get through their backlog of processing new claims, which is likely especially bad now because all of us who lost their jobs due to the pandemic have had to file new claims after our benefit year expired. It seems worse for me, because I temporarily worked for the federal government last year, which meant I couldn’t file online (I filed by fax on March 30th, and it’s nerve-wracking not hearing back or knowing if they even received my new claim). Because of this, it’s been difficult to know which process will help me receive income again faster. I have to find the right balance between figuring out my mess with EDD—now having 7 weeks of pending payments while they sort through their backlog and don’t answer the phone any time I try to call (I even reached the point of mailing my new claim last week, just in case the fax didn’t go through properly and I’d have to wait even longer)—job hunting, networking, attending events, and taking care of my kids and mental health. Since I started a magnesium supplement at my doctor’s recommendation, to try and reduce my migraines, I’ve noticed I’m less (or rather, no longer) fatigued or lethargic, so it’s been a little easier to focus on finding that balance and giving myself permission to take breaks to enjoy my time. I also received my first vaccine shot, so my future is starting to feel brighter.

Due to my anticipation that I should still be entitled to unemployment benefits through until September, even if I’m currently waiting to be paid, I opted to be focused and intentional about my job search. After all, if I’m supposed to take the time to research companies before I apply to them and tailor my résumé every single time, then I’d rather make sure I’m doing that only for companies in industries I’m actually interested in working in. It’s not like I’d be able to tailor my résumé well without that anyway. The downside is that the fields I’m most interested in are often ones that a lot more people want to work in, so I assume competition is likely fierce, and with the pandemic as it is right now, it’s an employer’s market. They’ll be able to comb through plenty of people who are out of work with lots of experience before they decide to look at those of us who spent the pandemic upskilling and/or refreshing our skills. I read an article that suggests there has been a significant increase in job postings recently, but I haven’t really noticed a difference. You would think living in the San Francisco Bay Area looking to get a job in tech would be easier, but I’ve yet to be invited for an interview. Of course, I haven’t yet reached that 200+ job application point that I’ve read other people get to before they’re offered anything either.

Thanks to my boot camp program, I have access to career services and have been working with a career director, who has helped clarify some things for me, and help me focus on navigating what works for me vs. what doesn’t. We both think my résumé and LinkedIn profile are as good as they can get right now, but it takes a lot more than having those items in solid condition to get a job.

Networking and Finding Connection

Being autistic, I feel uncomfortable doing anything that feels inauthentic or dishonest, and some of the advice I’ve read for job seekers are things that, if I were to do them, would feel inauthentic to me. Take for example the advice to reach out to random people you’ve never encountered or engaged with on LinkedIn because they’re recruiters, hiring managers, or their profile says “I’m hiring,” or they work for a company you want to work at. I stop myself short of contacting many of these people because they don’t have anything on their profile I can connect with to strike up a conversation, and being autistic already puts me at a disadvantage because engaging with strangers is not my strong suit if I’m the one expected to start the conversation. This is especially true if I have nothing to go on to find a common interest (outside of job title/company/industry, which I don’t think is enough, because they may have plenty of people trying to contact them for the same reason).

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In my past experience, I’ve made the best connections with people when they’ve been able to see what I’m capable of, and they reach out to me—it’s how I was able to find success making connections as an improviser. I’d often have people come up to me after a show or workshop and tell me something they liked about what I was doing. I’m not sure how many people find success getting offered jobs that way, but I have seen stories about that happening in tech, too. You just have to be someone who is active and engaging on social media, and sharing your projects. I’ve been meaning to do that, but kept falling into the trap of thinking, “But I should be applying to jobs directly to stand a chance.” And then feeling paralyzed because there are so many jobs I’m interested in and it takes time to tailor my résumé for each of them. I have 3 main résumés now, that I can tailor/alter, depending on the type of job. I have one for Returnships—opportunities for those who took years out of the workforce for the purpose of caregiving duties; one for data science/analytics roles that are not specifically returnships; and one for software engineering. I’m not really that fussed with what the specific job title I get is, I just know what types of projects I’m passionate about, and that I want to code. I like coding.

I’ve attended all kinds of events, and it’s in attending events that I find it easier to make connections with folks I might find interesting, or make notes about companies I’d be interested in investigating further. It’s incredible how many events you can attend during a pandemic when everything is virtual, and you can schedule things one after the other sometimes. I’ve attended events like job fairs, conferences, recruiting webinars, information seminars, and sessions where start-up founders present for investors (to learn about up-and-coming companies I might be interested in). When I’ve felt engaged enough to ask a question is when I’ve generally appreciated the events the most, because the panelist(s) have often appreciated my question, I’ve appreciated their answer, and then I have something to remind them of me when I send a connection request on LinkedIn.

Being more active on LinkedIn has felt like learning social media all over again. I have decent engagement on my personal Facebook account, amongst mostly people I’ve met in real life, and almost no engagement on Twitter except from mainly friends I’ve met in real life or when I use specific hashtags or tag specific people, but the context of LinkedIn is very different. It’s more professional than personal, though some personal experiences and anecdotes are encouraged. I’ve struggled with making decisions around how to build connections there because in the past it had felt like how I handle Facebook, in that I should only connect with people who know me in real life. I’m reluctant to accept connection requests from people who don’t send a note, and especially men, because I’m not sure who to trust, and like many women, I worry about the intentions behind the request. Is there any unspoken etiquette about engaging with people in the comments of folks who are 2nd or 3rd+ connections away from you, that I can’t easily figure out on my own because I’m autistic? Sometimes you just have to be prepared to make those mistakes and learn from them.

Of course, it all takes time to build up that trust and engagement. And it’s important to remember that not everyone uses LinkedIn as often as they might be on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve noticed it can take a lot longer for someone to accept a connection request on LinkedIn just because they’re not as active there or on it all the time. Take, for instance, my surprise when I eventually had a fun conversation with a data scientist at a company I was interested in about two weeks after I first sent the connection request. What made the conversation fun for me was that I had tried out one of the company’s products (admittedly, not until after I’d applied for a job with them, but I’m not sure that would have made a difference to what went into my application), so I was able to initially connect based on that experience, and learn their data science department was growing, and that I should keep an eye open on opportunities in the future.

On that point, I’m finding I’m more interested in working for a company that produces content or products I like. Another example is attending a session learning about TwilioQuest, which is a game released by Twilio that teaches people how to code and gain experience points while doing it. I like games, and I like coding, so it felt right up my alley. I downloaded the game and have made my way through the JavaScript and Python main quests so far, along with using GitHub to work on open source projects.

Screenshot from TwilioQuest after restoring the scientists’ machine in the JavaScript Mission

Though I haven’t yet sent in an application to work with Twilio, I like this way of learning more about the company, because it has taught me a little bit about what they do as I also set up my Twilio developer account (for using Twilio’s APIs that include voice, video, and fax technologies) in the initial setup process, and I think it would be awesome to see more companies doing things like this to teach job seekers more about what they do.

Another event I enjoyed was a career fair by PowerToFly, which specifically focuses on diverse hiring. I liked the way it was set up so you could research a little about the featured companies in advance, and attend one of the three zoom sessions each company held during the fair, which all started with a presentation about the company in the beginning, and had a longer Q&A portion. I connected with one of the companies there specifically because of their presentation, and though they weren’t hiring for junior positions yet, I added them to my “companies to watch because I like their values,” and connected with one of their presenters because they liked the question I asked.

Which leads me to discuss how much a company’s values makes a difference to my decision to apply somewhere. As someone from a couple of underrepresented backgrounds (especially being autistic, where the stats still say only 1 in 5 of us are employed, and it’s not because we’re not good at what we can do, but the hiring process just isn’t very conducive to showcasing our talents, and traditional networking is not really our forte), companies that care about diverse hiring practices matter to me. Fortunately, I am getting the sense that more and more companies are getting the memo on the value this can bring to them. Working with so many people of diverse backgrounds in my last job as a tour guide also enriched my life, and so I’d like to continue working in such a diverse environment. Plus, I recognize how problematic biased algorithms are, and I’d rather work somewhere that has the kind of diverse workforce needed to make the changes that combat those issues.

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One of the things I opted in to do while I’m still looking for work is that I signed up for a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace certificate that was being offered by the University of South Florida for free, thanks to some company sponsors. Over 100,000 people signed up for it. I didn’t decide to take it specifically because I thought it might look good on my résumé or that I necessarily wanted to work in DEI, but just because diversity is a topic that has interested me for years, so I thought it might be nice to have a certificate that showcases that. I love the lectures. They cover all the different areas of marginalized people that I’m familiar with, including race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, religion, national origin, disability, and neurodiversity. I’ve been genuinely impressed how much they included content on disability and neurodiversity, because I’d been feeling like those topics aren’t often covered as heavily as race and gender. They have an associated hashtag people can use to discuss the lectures (#USFDEICert), which I’d been using for the first few weeks on Twitter. Then, during Module 5, since I’d been trying to use LinkedIn more, I switched to writing about it there instead, and the longer format allowed me to connect it to a conversation I had with my career director, and wound up with my most viewed post yet, which is currently over 3,700 views. That was not something I anticipated.

Behind the scenes view of thousands of views on my LinkedIn post

I guess one of the things I’m learning from this whole process is that I most like seeing when people share their interests and passions, because that’s what I like to find connection with. Those are the people I want to work with. I mentioned earlier that I’d heard job seekers should reach out to hiring managers, especially if they have that hiring info in their profile or on their picture, but if those hiring managers aren’t also active on LinkedIn (sharing stories, interacting with people), or they don’t include enough detail on their profiles that gives job seekers an “in” to connect with, then I am less inclined to reach out to those people. I guess that’s why I put so much of myself and my personal interests online, even on LinkedIn—I want to see what other people are passionate about, so hopefully that means other people would like to see it from me, too.

One of the pieces of advice my career director gave me was to find and join groups on MeetUp.com to connect with industry professionals. I joined a couple of data science groups, and then MeetUp suggested a new group for me dealing with the intersection of tech and entertainment, and because that’s a topic I’m specifically interested in, I joined. It’s my favorite group I’ve joined there, because it’s friendly and welcoming. The host is great, and brings in guests to share their story about what they do. I also find it easier to connect because I’m genuinely interested in the topics, but they feel adjacent to where my skills are (so far guests have discussed prototyping and visual effects), so I don’t feel the pressure of being there to try and get a job. But maybe I’ll learn about what skills I could explore in my spare time, and meet some cool people in the process. It’s also just cool to meet people who work in an industry I’m fascinated by, and learn about what they’ve done. This Saturday’s meeting will include a guest from Unity. If the group sounds interesting to you, then I’d highly encourage you to come check it out!

What Industries Am I Looking At?

I have numerous passions, which is why it can be a little hard for me to narrow down specifically what I want to do. I know there are a lot of things I would be good at if I had the right opportunities, because I learn pretty quickly, honestly. Learning on the job fast and researching content as a tour guide really drove that awareness home to me. However, the pressure of feeling like I’m meant to be constantly looking for work can sometimes make it harder for me to spend more time focusing on actually spending time doing projects with my passions in mind (this is also why it’s been a few weeks since I’ve published a blog post here).

The industries I’m primarily interested in relate to where I’ve spent most of my spare time. Such as:

  • Media entertainment—film, television, and related products (and I have a Graduate Diploma in Media Production, so I have experience with the content creation side of this too, and minored in Media Studies, so I love doing media analysis on the content I watch);
  • Social Media (I’ve been using social media for over a decade);
  • Publishing—I’ve published books and have my own blog, which you’re reading now (plus I read a lot on psychology blogs and Medium, and comics books/graphic novels); and
  • Gaming (I grew up on video games, with my first console being the NES).
I’m also open to:
  • Tourism—I worked as a tour guide for almost 2 years before the pandemic hit, and I’ve traveled to 43 US states and over 35 countries around the world so I have industry knowledge, plus I previously lived in Australia and Malaysia;
  • Education—because I’ve worked closely with my children’s teachers/schools to support their education so that they’re both empathetic people and top students in their classes (I have also been part of the family leadership team to help shape decisions made about the future of the school to support all students, and not just my own);
  • HR (because I’m passionate about DEI and improving diverse workforces, so I’m interested in exploring people analytics);
  • Live Events—be it ticketing, marketing, live-streaming, or anything else that supports live entertainment (as I’ve produced my own live entertainment); and
  • General technology if it’s something I’d be interested in using, or helps support small businesses. e.g. I love crowdfunding platforms, and seeing what succeeds and how (plus I also back a lot of interesting projects).

What I’d really love to be doing is investigating the quantitative value of diversifying the workforce in entertainment (film/television/games), because it seems to me that there is increased consumer demand for it now, which is why I assume we’re seeing improvements in diverse casts. As I read recently, Audiences Prefer Films With Diverse Casts, According to UCLA Study. How can I explore that kind of data? Or, like, can I work on apps that help promote these diverse stories to audiences that wouldn’t necessarily otherwise encounter it, to help shape their opinions that actually people who are different than them are worth listening to as well? This is a similar vein of what I’d be interested in exploring in social media. But I know I could also succeed and feel invested and passionate about any of these other areas I mentioned above. Being autistic means that, if I’m getting paid for it, I can turn just about anything into a special interest and dedicate myself to researching it and knowing it inside and out, just like I did when I was a tour guide.

Malaysian friends take my tour, 2019
Malaysian friends take my tour, 2019

Next Steps

At this point, I feel like my best next step will be to focus on building out new projects that interest me. Help me showcase my skills better than the projects I currently have listed on my résumé. For example, I’m pretty good with database design and SQL, but the main projects I have on my résumé don’t really highlight those skills to the extent that I have them. So, I’ve been thinking about building a tabletop game recommendation system after building a database specifically for the tabletop games I own, since I bought so many to play with my kids during the pandemic, and already owned a bunch before that. This would give me more practice with machine learning, and probably be a better project to show than the movie recommender I built with a fellow student in my boot camp, since we stored that data in a CSV file rather than a database.

Additionally, I want to spend more time sharing content and connecting with people I find interesting, whether that be just LinkedIn, or elsewhere. As my career director recently agreed with me, I have much more to offer than what I’m able to showcase in my résumé. The best way for people to recognize what I’m capable of is for them to meet me and see what I’m working on.

Do you have any connections with people you think I should meet? I don’t just mean in the context of someone who could offer me a job. I’m genuinely interested in meeting more people who share my interests and passions. What about people you think I could help? For example, if you know anyone who’s planning a trip to San Francisco and wants to check out where specific movie scenes were filmed, I’m your woman! I’ve been helping a friend plan such a trip, and that was one of my specialties as a tour guide. Tell me who else I should know!


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