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After getting laid off three months ago, I've been interviewing for Senior Developer positions. Over and over, I am told that I don't have the skills to be a Senior Developer...apparently, I did not learn the necessary skills at my previous jobs. I'm desperate enough at this point to start applying for more junior roles. How should I respond when I inevitably get asked during an interview, "Why are you applying for a Junior Developer role when your last position was Senior Developer and you have 20 years of experience?"

  • What were your jobs before the last, and how long were you with the last jobs (and those before)? I think getting to know your history a bit more will go a long way. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 6 '20 at 15:48
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    What are the skills you’ve been told are lacking? – AsheraH Dec 6 '20 at 16:45
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    Were you in govt position? – Kilisi Dec 6 '20 at 19:32
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    @AsheraH, it depends on the company. A lot have stated that "senior" means a proven ability to lead and mentor, which I haven't done. Others expect seniors to have worked with the latest cutting-edge technologies. Others expect extraordinary DBA-level skills. Others expect full knowledge of the cloud. It really depends. Having worked in one place for a long time, I haven't had a lot of interview experience. – I love cats Dec 7 '20 at 18:47
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If you were doing the senior job then you were qualified... For that job.

The issue seems to be that your qualifications for that senior developer role do not transfer to other senior developer roles. That's because senior developers are not commodities, they are not interchangeable and each company will be looking for particular skills they need.

So your pitch should be that you are redirecting your career, and as such you lack experience in the particular field you are applying for. You recognize the need to gain knowledge and skills so are applying for a more junior role.

From the employer's perspective the main concern will be that you will leave as soon as you find something better that matches you previous senior level. You can only try to reassure them by going with the change of direction for your career pitch, making it sounds like you intend for this to be a permanent change and will not return to your old track.

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If you have 20 years of experience, and you are not getting any bites at all, there may be some problems that you are unaware of.

  1. Are you really 20 years experienced? I know people who have sat on a position for that many years but never learned anything new. That's great knowledge for the specific technology and task you've worked on all these years, but not so great for re-entering the workforce.

  2. Are you out of practice at interviewing? If you've stayed at one organization for a significant period of time (a good thing, since it means you're not a job-hopper), the job search process can seem byzantine and bewildering. I did some mock interviews at the local community college before embarking on my last job search.

  3. Is your résumé or CV serving you well? Everyone thinks they are their own best résumé writer; it's not true. Find someone who is good at reading and writing résumés, and have them review yours. Study what makes a good résumé, and modify yours to suit (I have changed my résumé at least a dozen times over my career; it gets a little better every time I change it).

  4. Finally, know who you are. If you can clearly articulate the kind of person you are, not just from a skill set perspective, but also as a human being, you'll have a much better chance at connecting with interviewers. That doesn't mean listing your hobbies; it means describing how you made life at your previous company better by providing value. Think about what that is, and make that your persona. You are the person who can get things done, and this is why.

The career counselor at my local community college gave me two pieces of advice that I'll never forget:

  1. You have a number. That number is the number of interviews you will have to go through to find the next job. Mine was 17. Yours may be higher. You won't know what that number is until you've accepted a job offer. No one interview is critically important; you may think a particular job opening is the ideal job for you; it isn't. Don't get attached to any one company.

  2. You're not meant to work at certain places, because they're not a good fit for you. This will become clearly apparent at the interview. You didn't fail the interview; it just wasn't a good fit. Think about how you could have done better, but don't obsess over it. Thank them for their time, and move on to the next interview.

I would do all of these things first, before deciding to apply for junior positions.

  • With regards to resumes, there is also that a single resume doesn't necessarily suit every application. – Peter M Dec 6 '20 at 22:52
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I'm desperate enough at this point to start applying for more junior roles. How should I respond when I inevitably get asked during an interview, "Why are you applying for a Junior Developer role when your last position was Senior Developer and you have 20 years of experience?"

The honest answer appears to be something along the lines of "Since getting laid off, I've been unable to land a Senior job, and now I'm getting desperate."

A more nuanced answer might be something like "Since getting laid off, I've realized that despite having the title I'm not really qualified to be a Senior Developer in most organizations. I've decided to take a step back and grow my career a bit." Only state this if it is true. Discuss how important it is for you to improve your skills in your next job.

Be ready to answer questions about how long you can expect to be happy in a role that is less than Senior. And be ready to talk about the salary you may be asked to accept. Hiring managers will likely be wary of someone who would go from Senior to Junior - they may expect them to jump as soon as a position becomes available. You may need to calm those fears in order to get hired.

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    About the last paragraph, I'm guessing he would be a 'flight risk'. You suggest misleading them? – Bwmat Dec 6 '20 at 21:01
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    The problem with this approach is that as interviewer my next question- spoken aloud or not - is "How did you spend 20 years in development without learning senior skills?" – DJClayworth Dec 7 '20 at 3:37
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    This isn't good advice. Being honest is only a red flag. Also you attack my answer for suggesting a white lie, but that's exactly what your telling the OP to do. --- "I've decided to take a step back and grow my career a bit." -- That's a lie!! -- OP is applying because they are desperate and can't get a senior position, not because they want to take a step back and grow their career! -- In this specific situation honesty doesn't help the OP. – flexi Dec 7 '20 at 10:39
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    as a hiring manager, I'd never hire someone that indicated they worked for 20 years, still isn't qualified, but desperate for a job. – flexi Dec 7 '20 at 13:20
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    @flexi it depends on what you mean by "qualified". Virtually every job I took over a 4 decade career, I was "unqualified" in that I didn't know significant chunks of the tech stack, didn't know the subject matter, etc. And yet it (almost) always worked out, and I was (almost) always regarded as a high performer. – DaveG Dec 7 '20 at 19:56
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How should I respond when I inevitably get asked during an interview, "Why are you applying for a Junior Developer role when your last position was Senior Developer and you have 20 years of experience?"

Long term, you should try and upskill. I'm guessing it's not necessarily experience you lack, but using modern stacks?

You can be honest, but the problem is any way you say it is going to be seen as a red flag.

Short term, if you're desperate, here's an alternative approach you can try:

"I've been doing this for 20 years now and find the senior role is quite stressful and time consuming (occupies my mind outside work hours), so I'm applying for a junior position in the hope that it will be less stressful and provide a better work/life balance.

(there is nothing wrong with taking it easy or wanting a better work/life balance, not everyone needs to be a workaholic)

I am not recommending you to lie as such. For all we know this is how you feel in addition to what you've already said. Although with interview questions like this, I don't think a white lie hurts anyone. Those who advocate nothing but complete honesty with your employer are usually the biggest liars of them all, or unemployed.

Just sharing my experience, I've tried being honest before about why I moved company after 9 years. It was because I was underpaid by 60% and new juniors being hired were starting at a higher rate than seniors. - I could tell when I was honest the interviewers didn't like it, and I never heard back from them. When I changed my answer to: "I just want to further my own skills" I started hearing back.

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    What's wrong with taking it easy? Nothing wrong with wanting a less stressful job so you can focus on family, not everyone wants to be a workaholic. -- Like it or not sometimes you have to tell a white lie in an interview, so long as it doesn't hurt anyone and it gets you the job. – flexi Dec 7 '20 at 10:01
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    @JoeStrazzere excuse me! but your answer also suggests telling a lie! – flexi Dec 7 '20 at 10:36
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    That's your interpretation of it. Taking a role with less stress and responsibility doesn't necessarily mean the candidate wants to "take it easy". -- Sure, not everyone will like that as an answer, but you can't please everyone. -- It's better than saying you worked for 20 years and you're still not qualified, or that you're desperate as you suggest in your answer. – flexi Dec 7 '20 at 13:18
  • Doesn't such a "white" lie deny the employer the chance to make a decision about employment (fairly serious) based on the reality of the situation? To me, that is some "hurt". – Bwmat Dec 7 '20 at 21:03
  • In this situation I don't think so. The OP should be judged based on their ability to do the junior job, not on the reason why they're apply for junior and not senior. --- I would also say, employment is often heavily weighted in favour of the employer, so in reality who cares? -- Would an employer be honest and transparent with a candidate about company financial difficulties etc... I don't think so. – flexi Dec 7 '20 at 21:17

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