Bottom line: When looking for a “senior-level” job (lower management/senior tech staff), what techniques does one need to use that were not necessary for prior “normal” roles?

I’m presently a software development manager and senior engineer/architect at a startup/small business. I’ve worked there for over a dozen years, and being concerned it was time to move on, I started earnestly looking for other job openings. This was a little over a year ago.

Having been used to my prior job searches as an “intermediate” or “senior” software developer, I’ve found landing a more senior team-lead/management position a lot tougher. More wasted phone calls with recruiters; many fewer advertised job postings looking for team leads/managers. Networking has been little help, as my peers rarely know of job openings they themselves would pursue (though like me, they constantly seem to have open developer positions). A handful of times I got through the full interview process, only to be told the role was restructured away, or that as impressed as were with me, they were already “top-heavy” with senior people and could not fit me in.

Lately I’ve taken a pause, and am considered retooling my approach. A lot of books and career coaches are recommending that higher-level professionals instead focus on building a “personal brand.” These involve entirely different activities – getting involved in organizations, starting a blog, contributing to open-source projects. Fun stuff, and much more professionally useful than answering job ads and hassling recruiters. The trouble is, these add up to heavy commitments on top of my regular 50-60 hour weeks, and might not result in job leads for years.

So how do other people in this position actually get leads? Can anyone else who has successfully engineered a move at a more senior position recommend the proper direction to take? At this point, I’m very concerned about properly using what little free time I have, and making sure my plan will result in something within months, not years.

  • This is blatant nitpicking, but after a dozen years it's no longer a startup. :)
    – NotMe
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 14:35

3 Answers 3


When looking for a “senior-level” job (lower management/senior tech staff), what techniques does one need to use that were not necessary for prior “normal” roles?


Honestly, I have done a job search for team lead roles the same as I did when I was a developer. There are fewer job postings of course because companies only need 1 team lead per X developers.

The other thing you might be running into is that "Senior Software Engineer" is not really a leadership role these days (at least in my locale). It's a bit of title bloat to emphasize that the company needs a skilled programmer, not someone who can copy/paste stuff until it works.

And another problem is that not all companies mix the tech and management paths. Many have distinct managers (who do people leadership) and architects (who do technical leadership). For me, that meant 3 searches/resumes to target each possible role/path for my career.

Sure, personal branding sort of ideas are good. If you have a popular blog, that's great. If your SE account has many good answers, that's great. If I saw you give a compelling talk at a conference, cool. But those are largely gravy, and still applicable to run of the mill programmers these days.

So while it's maybe not the answer you were looking for, I'd recommend continuing along the usual way: work/expand your network, search job postings, send out feelers for good local companies, be pleasant, be patient, and be persistent.

  • I must say, I honestly hoped for a different angle, or some sign I was doing something wrong. But if that's the way it is, that's the way it is. So I'm checking it as answered for me.
    – J B NY
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 1:46

The key here is who you know. Those activities are a way to get others to know you and be more apt to want to work with you. You do this every day with people at your current job. I'm sure people have left and gone to work for other places. Dust off your contact list and reach out to some of them.

Networking is hard but every job I've gotten out of college has been because of my talent and because of the people I know there. Most employers like it when you have worked with somebody they like at their company. This makes the hiring process less scary / expensive for everybody.

If you want to do any of those other things, do it with more than just a new job in mind. If you can take some time at night to learn a new skill, use that as your motivation. This will help you from being discouraged if the new job doesn't come out of it. Additionally it may open up a new position within your current company that wasn't available to you before.

Also keep in mind that job hunting sucks. It can take days and it can take years. Just stay positive.


The only potential issue I see is that you mention interviewers claiming they're top-heavy. It's possible that you're applying for the wrong profile and the interviewers realise that you're looking for a team lead or management position instead of a senior technical position (as Telastyn mentions). It's also possible that you were just given a standard excuse when they decided not to extend an offer.

From how you describe your search, it seems like there isn't anything you should be changing. You are getting interviews and seem to be in the final candidate pool quite a few times. The one point of advice I would give is to politely ask for feedback if you're rejected. A good question would be a variation on "May I ask what convinced you about the top candidate's profile?" or "What would I have needed to be a better fit for this position?". Not all interviewers are comfortable giving candid feedback but if you make it clear that you're not looking to argue their decision you could get some useful input.

Finally, a note about "personal branding". I could fill volumes on how this is just another gimmick advocated by people with little experience with actual hiring but I'll let Alison Green do it for me (the full article is worth reading):

As for personal branding more broadly, that’s a perversion of the concept of reputation. Reputation matters a great deal, but it’s not created by a three-page website with little content; it’s created by doing great work and operating with integrity and generosity. Of course, that’s not a concept that the personal-branding evangelists — who are looking for something to hawk in an already overcrowded marketplace — can make money off of, so they’ve turned to gimmicky concepts of “branding” instead.

TL;DR: You get interviews by having a strong profile and cover letter. You get hired by finding positions and companies that fit you profile and experience, demonstrating competency and having a good track record backed up by solid references. Gimmicks get you hired by people who don't know how to hire well.

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