What I learned from applying to and interviewing for senior engineer roles

Note: I’ll be keeping all of this anonymous and general, as interviews are hard for all parties involved and it’s generally good etiquette to do so!

My jobs pipeline in Notion. The “Pass” column got quite long in the end

Why look for a new role?

Why was I looking for a new role in the first place? After a few years of contracting as a senior product engineer, I was looking for a new opportunity to invest my time and efforts in. While I had fun and interesting opportunities to work on while contracting, I was itching to work on something where I had a longer term stake.

Learnings

Below, I’ve made note of a dozen leanings I made while applying for 10+ senior engineer roles. They’re from the perspective of the interviewee (i.e. the candidate) but I’ve also made notes for employers.

#1. There are lots of engineering jobs

Yes. “Lots” probably is an understatement. There are more software roles out there than there are candidates to fill them. And there are lots of sources: friends (my favourite), acquaintances, job boards (YC), job marketplaces (Snap.hr, Hired, Cord), communities, careers sites of companies you like, etc.

#2. Stay organised

As you’ll have seen in my above screenshot, I made a jobs pipeline board in Notion. There was no way that I was going to keep all the conversations in my head, so I made sure to write down the progress I made in Notion. Specifically, I made sure to keep track of:

  • Status of the application (Applied, Interview scheduled / Interviewed / Awaiting next steps / Offer / Pass / Did not reply)
  • Primary, secondary, tertiary contacts
  • Interview dates and times
  • Company URL
  • Job spec URL
  • Salary information
  • Questions to ask the company

#3. Saying “no” is hard

It’s never easy to say no. But it needs to be said as early as possible if you’ve started a conversation but you’re fairly sure that the match isn’t right. Sometimes it’s not received well. A genuine sorry and thankfulness for their time is the best I can suggest in this situation.

#4. Getting rejected is hard

Some interviews feel like they’re going somewhere until you find out they’re going nowhere. Sometimes the reason you’re rejected isn’t clear — but that’s just the nature of interviewing. Understand that it’s all part of the interviewing process.

#5. Being “wanted” goes both ways

One of the revelations of being in the interviewee seat was that it’s quite important to feel wanted! If the employers are framing the hire as one of many roles they need to hire in Q3, you’re probably not going feel very wanted. But if the role is being framed as a key hire for an emerging or growing team, the conversation takes a different turn. Feeling “wanted” as a candidate is important.

#6. Speed is a key lever for employers

This relates to the previous point about feeling “wanted”. If employers move fast, you feel more wanted! This is why, as an employer, replying very quickly to emails and making same-day offers is important. If there’s momentum, it will be positively received.

#7. Certain stock options are worth more

If you’re entertaining working at a startup (in the UK), please look into the difference between EMI options and non-EMI. The tax implications when you exercise your options are big depending on which type you’re offered (hint, EMI is more tax-efficient). A friend of mine was bitten by this when he used to work at a startup.

#8. Do your homework on stock options

Again, if you’re working at a startup, you may be offered stock options. But not all options are created equal. Some startups will have a much, much better chance of success than others. Some are further along and already have product-market fit. Some have excellent credentials to succeed. Try to price in the uncertainty of startups by discounting the value of your equity stake by the chances of the startup succeeding. Other factors to consider:

  • What valuations did similar startups get?
  • What valuations did similar companies get at your stage of startup? Can you extrapolate?

#9. “Culture fit” is difficult

Some cultures are fascinating. But don’t mistake fascination for culture fit. For example, I find Netflix’s engineering culture fascinating but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will work there. Good cultural fit is often grounded in the values you have as an individual and what the company values. Some examples:

  • Attitude towards “ship fast”
  • Attitude towards customer-centric development
  • Attitude towards UX, design, usability
  • Who are the founders? How are they like?
  • Is your time being respected?

#10. Don’t rush your offers

It’s exciting to get to the offer stage! But if you have multiple conversations on the go, chances are that offers will come in a staggered pattern. This is largely fine if the offering company is happy to give you a bit of freedom to make the right decision. But if the offer has an “exploding” or tight deadline, it can add additional stress to the process.

#11. Saying “no” to an offer is even harder

When you get multiple offers, you’ll need to say no to some. It’s not easy as each offer has unique things to offer. Be kind and get back to them as soon as you can, offering feedback if appropriate.

#12. Keep an eye on your energy level

Over the course of the 2–3 months I was searching for a role, I went through lots of ups and downs. I’m glad I spoke to each company but it was exhausting to speak to as many as I did, if I’m honest!

Conclusion

Hope the learnings were interesting for you! Senior engineers are in demand, so you won’t have to look far to find opportunities. But it’s important you filter those opportunities appropriately, so that you arrive at a job you want!

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Mario Hayashi

Mario Hayashi

Product engineer, No-Coder, contractor, tech leadership at startups, indie maker.