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Edit: It appears that my fears were unfounded. It took a while, but I am now holding three job offers with two more in the pipeline. I guess I was hirable after all. :)

The key was to give as many interviews as possible, then note down the questions that were asked in the ones I botched, then look up answers or practice them if it's a coding challenge. Rinse, repeat.

I think I wrote this post because I was feeling very down at the time and I was afraid of how I'll perform in the job market.


I am currently a Technical Lead in a moderately large startup with 12 years of total experience. I was promoted back in 2021 to handle a new project. I had to design implement a system from scratch with a handful of developers, based on requirements from a product manager. The project was fairly simple and I designed a simple architecture and deployment plan. After about one year of working on the project, the product owner quit and the project stopped since there were no functional specifications for new work. So, I was moved to another project to work in an Individual Contributor role, where I have been ever since. I must say I haven't learned much about my role in my time as a TL.

I have been moved between different projects but all of them were already fairly established so there was no need for me to add to the leadership. However, I once made a mistake in my work due to some misunderstanding of the technical specifications, which brought the attention of the VP of engineering on me. Shortly afterwards, I was given a PIP stating that I wasn't really doing the work expected by a TL. I failed the PIP and now I am on notice to be separated from the organization.

I already started looking for a job and landed a few interviews. But I am having trouble clearing them. While I am good with writing code, I haven't had much experience in designing a complex system. I do especially poorly in scenario based questions. Given my experience level, all interviewers seem to have high expectations from me, even the job descriptions I come across for lead roles seem intimidating. I suspect that I might be unhirable at this stage. I tried applying for a lower tier role such as Senior Software Engineer, even lowered my expected cost-to-company a bit to entice recruiters, but my applications tend to be ignored or rejected.

I am at my wits end. I don't want to be jobless after the notice period ends. Is there anything at all I can do to salvage my situation?

I also want to point out that I have been studying and preparing for interviews almost constantly in my spare time. But it feels like everything I do is not enough.

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  • 2
    How long have you been seriously looking for a job? Anyway, this is not an answer, but you may want to practice mock interviews with other job hunters on this site: pramp.com Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 23:29
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    One and a half months is nothing. Plus, you're already getting interviews. You're going to be fine. In any case, do not lower your expectations too much. The job titles with lower expectations get thousands of resumes because everyone applies to them. But if you keep your expectations high, you'll be applying to jobs where very few people apply to and there won't be as much noise. Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 5:34
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    Applying for a job always is a numbers game, so keep doing it. As Stephan points out you will probably be fine. One comment: In many places "Senior Software Engineer" is not necessarily a step. At my place "Tech Lead" used to be much easier to reach.
    – Helena
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 6:09
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    I'm not sure whether the question might be missing some crucial information. "I once made a mistake in my work due to some misunderstanding of the technical specifications [and as a consequence] I was given a PIP stating that I wasn't really doing the work expected by a TL" sounds pretty harsh to me. Misunderstandings about requirements happen all the time; that's why there should be sufficient amount of exchange between those issuing a task and those executing it. Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 6:38
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    And consider the economic situation - that we are in a recession where a lot of technical people have been let go. That means that there is a lot of competition for open jobs. That you are getting interviews is good. While unemployed, your "job" is about getting interviews, not about getting hired. Do enough interviews and you are likely to get hired.
    – David R
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 14:10

3 Answers 3

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I already started looking for a job and landed a few interviews.

That's good. It means your resume looks fine.

But I am having trouble clearing them.

If your resume is fine that this typically caused by

  1. A major discrepancy between your resume and your actual self (skill, experience level, soft-skills, personality type, etc)
  2. You don't interview well
  3. Something completely unrelated to you (better, cheaper, more suitable candidate, change in hiring plans and/or strategy, etc)

Point #3 is the most common and the best you can do there is just keep trying. This being said, you should take a serious look at #1 and #2. A good indicator could be where in the process you flare out: phone screen, first interview, follow-up, final negotiation, etc.

Re #1: Go through your resume and make sure you have specific examples of all skills that you list and that you can cite if being asked.

Re #2: This may require help from 3rd party. There are plenty (if not too many) of resources on how to interview effectively but it's hard to focus on the right areas if you don't know what's wrong. So working with a coach or trusted friend could help here.

Prep for soft skill questions: "How do you handle conflict?", "How do you deal with an difficult team member?", etc. Make sure you answer in SPECIFIC examples and not some abstract text book babble.

No one really complained until I got on the VP's radar.

Are you sure? I think you need to take a good hard look at why got fired. From my experience at least half of the people that got on a PIP where blissfully ignorant or in complete denial of their (very real) problem areas. That's often how you end up on a PIP: if you don't understand and accept the underlying problem, you can't fix it.

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    Having been PIPped doesn't make you unhirable; it just means you probably can't count on this management chain as a reference. These days that may not matter; many companies only respond to inquiries with "yes, the dates of employment are correct", and you can be selective about who you suggest as references, offering a willing co-worker rather than an unwilling boss. (And yes, though mostly we hear about the abuses, PIPs are often a legitimate attempt to give an employee guidance and a last chance before firing for cause.)
    – keshlam
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 13:42
  • @keshlam: No one wants to do a PIP. It's a pain in the neck for HR and the manager as well. Hence, in most cases it only gets deployed when everything else (training, mentoring, hand-holding & tracking) has already failed and the chances of salvaging the situation are basically 0. At that point, the formal PIP just becomes legal insurance. The main reason why "everything else has failed" is often than the employee simply can't or doesn't want to see the problem. Instead of fixing it, they are arguing about it or ignoring it all together.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 17:14
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    You are somewhat correct. Basically my productivity had gone down since the company moved from Java to Python. I have 10+ years of experience in Java and I was finding it hard to cope with Python development. I was getting there but I am a slow learner.
    – SargentD
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 18:24
  • Also yeah, I kinda get nervous and my mind tends to blank out at the worst time, making me fumble for answers. But thanks for the pointers, those are really helpful.
    – SargentD
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 18:27
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    @Hilmar: There are exceptions where the manager being is forced to do one in an effort by upper manglement not to admit that they are doing a targeted headcount reduction and firing without cause. Unfortunately those abuses are the folks who (justifiably) complain loudest, so there's a sampling bias and we seem to be more common than we are. How much this actually happens is hard to determine, but it's real; you're welcome to tell me how else one person gets a high performance review immediately followed by a PIP.
    – keshlam
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 0:30
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Just keep applying. Don't go too low either, there's little point throwing a career backwards.

For example I considered myself unemployed for almost a year once. Yet in fact I was working in casual jobs and making pretty good money, just not in my industry of choice. When I finally landed a job I did so at a higher level than the one I had left.

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  • Did you have to show your other jobs on your resume or does that period show up as a gap?
    – SargentD
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 18:25
  • @DDD I didn't bother showing them. They were unskilled labour type jobs.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 1:30
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Don't lose hope.

PIPs almost never work in favor of the employee. They are almost always a paperwork trail to let go of an employee with minimal lawsuit risk.

I've been PIP'd and fired. I lost sleep and ended up with a Dr. visit to try to pass the PIP. I didn't and was fired. I took a few weeks off to try to cope and recover from the stress, then hit the job hunt.

I submitted 1-3 applications a day for Senior Developer and Team or Tech Lead roles, depending on what I could find.

In 3 months, and about 50 applications, I landed a role as a Senior Dev for 10% more pay than my previous job. After about 6 months in that role, I was promoted to Engineering Manager.

A year later COVID hit, the CEO panicked, and I was laid off along with 30% of the staff.

3 months later, I was hired as a Senior Dev for 10% more pay than my previous role.

Sometimes it's just a bad job fit, sometimes the company is just looking for any reason at all to lower their labor spend. You don't have much control over it.

I still sometimes have moments of anxiety about my skills.

I know I shouldn't internalize, and thankfully I found a really great role at a top-tier company. I've been given bonuses and am in the running for a promotion this year.

All this is not a brag, but a personal account to show you that there is hope.

I've moved up and down the positional ladder a few times. It doesn't seem to matter to hiring managers. What matters is what you bring to the table now. Can you provide the skillset they need? Can you learn what you don't know quickly? Can you get along with the team and management? This is what hiring managers want.

Spend your time and energy practicing for interviews, working on your skills, and tending to your network of friends and previous co-workers.

While all of the above is timeless advice, you should also recognize that this is the end of the calendar year. Hiring is always slower at the end of the year, and typically picks back up in January.

There is also a lot of talk of a US recession looming in 2024, and interest rates are the highest they've been since 1991.

Hiring in the software development world is very tough right now, and will likely stay that way until at least Q1 of 2024.

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  • Thanks for the motivation. I have been busy the last few weeks applying for any opening I can. I have also landed a few interviews though I haven't got any offers yet. I think I might come out of this fine if I can land a few more interviews.
    – SargentD
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 22:11
  • @DDD Good idea, landing a new job is mostly a numbers game. You have to put a lot of applications out there to land a few interviews to land only one offer. Also, don't forget to take some time for yourself. I would typically spend 2-3 hours a day on everything "job hunt" and the rest of the day reading books I love, calling friends, walking in the park, and working on the house. Self-care is necessary to be ready for the next job opportunity! Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 18:24
  • Sometimes, being laid off can be the best thing that can happen to you. I was laid off from Nortel Networks. As a result, I got some much-needed downtime, I got to do refresher work in numerical computing and graphics, and new work in higher math and robotics, I got into a contract job on which I made out like a bandit, and I landed my last job, which, while it had its faults, also earned me a LOT of internal respect and taught me a LOT. I wouldn't trade the time back in school for ANYTHING. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 12:20
  • 100% this. PIPs aren't about you improving, it's about getting the paperwork together to fire you without a lawsuit / repercussions. The only company I saw them used was one where every manager had a book in their office about "Firing people the legal way". The company had a history of getting sued for illegal firings, so now they wrap the process up in legal PIP paperwork, where they fabricate that you've improved, just not enough, even if metrics show you're performing as well, if not better, than the team. I'm so glad to be out of that madhouse.
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 17:46

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