In July, I accepted my second full-time job. Looking back, my first and second job hunt was quite different. I wrote this is to provide alternative viewpoints on what to look for when applying to companies and deciding between offers, especially for those starting in their careers —
This time around I was more intentional about the companies I applied to. I wanted to make sure joining the company was something I wanted. And after working at a large corporation I knew I wanted to go back to something smaller. While I was deciding where to interview and ultimately where I’d work next, there were four key things I used to prioritize and evaluate companies.
The first was that the company had a strong engineering culture. This meant there were opportunities for me to grow as an engineer both in my technical and non-technical skills. 1
The second was that the company had a strong sense of culture. It’s easy for companies to have mission statements and quotes from employees on career pages, but it’s something else entirely for it to be something embodied by the employees. 2
The third was a collaborative environment. Companies that treat engineers with reverence or treat them like code monkeys, to me, are signs of an uncollaborative environment. Successful companies are usually a product of many functions working together, and when engineers are treated differently it can get in the way of collaboration.
The fourth and last was work-life balance. It’s great to be ambitious early in your career; it has compounding effects. But it’s great to have a life outside of the office as well. 3
Originally impact was on the list. Impact and mission statements tend to be cliches in recruiting pitches. Anything can be spun to be impactful. I like being able to observe the impact that I make. There’s enjoyment in being able to get a visceral reaction from people that are affected by the work that I do.
Ultimately deciding what to prioritize is a personal choice. It’s worth spending time upfront to think about what interests you as it will help decide between offers.
Compensation is a big part of any job offer. It’s worth thinking about compensation before getting any offer calls because it can easily shape your decision making progress. The allure of high salaries and compensation packages can be quite seductive.
Related to compensation is the location of the role. Income tends to be adjusted relative to the cost of living. So a high salary in San Francisco isn’t necessarily better than a lower salary in a place with a lower cost of living.
Some questions to consider: what are your income needs and wants? What are your living preferences? And on the equity side, questions like: What is your risk profile? Depending on which stage a company you get into, equity can be a gamble.
Dive deeper into what your equity means if it’s important to you.
It’s possible for mature startups to fail, go through a down-round, or dilution. So your equity may not be worth what you think it is. There’s also a drastic difference between getting equity in a public company and a startup or a private company that is far away from a liquidity event.
I’ve seen internet communities like r/cscareerquestions or Blind place a high focus on total compensation (“TC”). It’s not healthy to tie your self-worth to your income or compensation, although it’s easy to conflate the two. At the end of the day, to each their own.
A last note about compensation: there is no right or wrong when it comes to prioritizing compensation over other factors. In the end, each person’s situation is different and there are always trade-offs.
This time around I have also come to consider the less quantifiable benefits. At least in the San Francisco Bay Area, companies tend to offer perks like catered or subsidized meals, commuting stipends, gym subsidies, and learning budgets. The list can go on as companies can offer different benefits. It’s worth asking about all the benefits available to you.
If you’re just getting into becoming independent, away from your parent’s or family’s support, things like health insurance, medical or health spending accounts, 401ks, and other investment and retirement options, are also things to look into. There’s a learning curve the first time around, especially if you’re still covered under your parents. But it gets easier the second time around.
Another important benefit is time off. Usually, this falls under vacation and holidays. It’s either a set amount of vacation days or it’s unlimited. There’s a lot written about unlimited PTO if you search for it, but in short, it doesn’t mean that you can take time off whenever you want nor does it mean you can take off months at a time. It’s worth asking companies that offer this, how employees use it. Questions to ask: How flexible is taking time off? What’s the average amount of time taken off per employee? If asking a person that works at that company, ask how many days did you take off last year?
To me, the last and most secondary factory is the community.
You spend a tremendous amount of your waking life at work. And if it’s not in an environment that you enjoy and feels comfortable in, it’ll be harder to be happy and do your best work. In smaller organizations, it can be easier to find a sense of community as by the very nature it will be a smaller group. It’s also very possible that you may not fit in with the community and become alienated.
For interns and new grads: I’ve found bigger companies and corporations tend to invest more in events and mixers for new grads because there are so many. If you’re moving to a new place this might be the basis of your friend group. For return offers made to previous interns, it’s possible that your experience as an intern will differ as a full-time employee. This is because companies intentionally invest to get interns to return as full time.
People on the recruiting side understand other companies also want you and are okay with you declining an offer. You don’t get blacklisted for gracefully declining an offer, but you’ll get blacklisted for reneging an offer.
At the end of your job hunt if you don’t end up at your dream company, don’t despair. Make the best out of your experience and try again later down the road.
A lot can be learned to be at companies that experience a growth phase. For example, engineering and management processes that work for X employee count won’t work when there are X + Y employees. ↩︎
Culture fit or introductory interviews with engineers are a great opportunity to learn more about what life would be like. Usually, you can ask these at the end of a technical interview, assuming there is time left. Ask the recruiting team you’re working with to set up time to talk with an engineer if you’re still unsure. ↩︎
At the end of the day, the chase for prestige and success might seem worth it early on, sacrificing youth for it, but you only have one life. And while you’re young and don’t have many attachments like a mortgage or a family it’s easier to explore more, do more, and see more. ↩︎