from Guide to the Job Hunt on Dec 18, 2022
How to plan your job hunt.
Job hunts are time-consuming and long-running, with burnout costing you either interviews or your dream offer. It turns out, though, that all you need are a few simple tactics prevent burnout by controlling the job hunt timeline.
One commonly-overlooked enemy in the job hunt is burnout — and the root cause? A prolonged process, with staggered interviews, renewed stress with every offer deadline, and the mental overhead of a fairly big life decision.
If you consider each company's job process in isolation, it doesn't look so bad: 1 or 2 phone screens, an on-site, offer, negotiation, then decision. However, multiply by the number of companies and maybe even teams within companies, the number of hours starts to grow. To make the situation worse, timelines for every company are also staggered, making the job hunt complex as well as time-consuming — just imagine phone screen 2 at company B right after an on-site at company A. Oh, and company C gave an offer but the deadline is tomorrow. By the end of it, you're gasping for air and crossing your fingers the hunt ends soon.
Here's why burnout is a big problem: The end of the process—negotiation—is also one of the most critical. Year over year, your total compensation changes maybe 10-20%. This pales in comparison to your compensation changes during the last few weeks of your job hunt — up to 50%, if not more. You're far less likely to negotiate for compensation if you're exhausted and thinking only of the light at the end of the tunnel, by the negotiation stage. So, don't burnout. Use these tactics to control your timeline, your pace, and your sanity.
There are many concerns related to the job hunt and starting off: the maximum number of companies to apply for, which ones to apply for, how to build in-roads into each one etc. No matter the concern, I would argue that preserving your sanity and warding off burnout is the priority. Don't interview for 20 back-up companies; interview for your top 5. Don't message 100 recruiters from the same company; find 10 friends with recruiter connections. Getting 1-2 offers you're lukewarm about is much less important than saving energy for negotiations, for the 2-3 offers you're very excited about.
This anti-burnout mentality has three important repercussions for your job hunt timeline:
Take time to gather all contacts, then interview all at once. For the most part, interviews are scheduled soon after you make contact with a recruiter. However, there are two problems.
- Starting interviews immediately is the number one cause of staggered interview timelines — staggered starts make for staggered processes. To fix this, reach out to recruiters normally and schedule in advance if you'd like. However, let all recruiters know that you'll start participating in interviews at a later date, to buy yourself time.
- Connecting with recruiters takes time, luck, and effort. As a result, most of the time, these three factors mean you can realistically only interview with a handful of companies at a time. Any more, and their offer deadlines would be incompatible. However, by connecting first and interviewing later, you can take more time to build in-roads and ultimately interview with a larger portfolio of companies in a synchronized way.
Minimize time spent between interviews. Dragging on interviews over many many weeks can be mentally burdensome. Even on off-days in between interview days, anxiety and stress can really build up. Knowing this, your goal should be to minimize the number of days before your and last standalone interviews. Interviews don't need to be back to back in a single day, but try not to let interviews span more than a month. This is true even if you want to use some companies as practice; wait too long and you'll forget the learnings from one company to the next, anyways. To further minimize stress, it's also worth noting that cramming for a few days in between interviews is not worth the stress — when was the last time you picked up and remembered information from last-minute cramming? For me, never. Study before the process begins, in the previous step, and once the process has started, focus on your mental preparedness.
Opt for virtual on-sites. Traveling will sap you of valuable energy you need for subsequent on-sites. I would certainly recommend meeting your to-be team face-to-face at some point, but that can happen after the interview process, when you're in the negotiation stage.
- Like before, I recommend placing on-sites back to back as much as possible, but to do this, you'll likely want virtual on-sites. You may need a day of rest in between each pair of on-sites. I packed all my on-sites into two weeks, so I could take time off and finish interviews in one breath.
- It's worth noting that PTO plays a role here. In my case, taking a 2-week break was easiest. If you know Wednesdays are a slow day, maybe taking every Wednesday for a month is easier. How you schedule on-sites may depend on your work culture, but in general, I would still advise to not draw it out for too long.
Keep offers verbal, and set a decision date. Inevitably, one of your interview timelines will finish first, well ahead of anyone else. In this scenario, you need to focus on (1) keeping the offer verbal. Ask the recruiter to keep the offer non-official. The moment the recruiter generates an official written offer, the days-long timer starts ticking. However, a verbal offer has a longer lifespan, so ask to keep the offer verbal. (2) Set a decision date, and let your recruiter know that you'll make a decision at this later date. This lets the recruiter know how much time you'll need and assures them there's an end in sight. For setting the decision date, you can see my timeline at the bottom of this post, which provides the amount of time each company took to approve and provide a verbal offer.
These pieces motivate controlling and setting the most critical parts of your timeline.
In a nutshell, I advise setting and communicating these dates to your recruiters. Create four "choke points" where all your recruiting processes synchronize on these dates:
- Start: Set the date you begin interviews.
- Interviews: Align your interviews.
- On-sites: Align your on-sites.
- Decision Date: Set your final decision-making date.
Note that you don't need to (and realistically, can't) decide on all dates in advance. I set dates one at a time and only when they needed to be. As an example, here were the dates I set for my last job hunt in 2022:
- Start: In early fall, as early as August, I reached out to recruiters, but I told all recruiters that I wouldn't begin interviews until December of that year. All in all, outreach spanned 3 months but most outreach was concentrated in 2 weeks.
- Interviews: I interviewed during the second and third weeks of December. All of my technical interviews happened during a 10-day period, from Dec 7 to Dec 17. I simply offered availabilities only within that time period, with a few exceptions. Note I'm excluding non-technical phone screens, such as "fit" calls with hiring managers. Interviews took 2 weeks.
- On-sites: I had on-sites during the second and third weeks of January. The majority of my on-sites happened during a 10-day period, from Jan 6 to Jan 14. On-sites took 2 weeks.
- Decision Date: Most verbal offers were made in a 2 week period, from Jan 18 to Jan 24. To be specific, on these dates, each recruiter communicated that the hiring committee had decided to extend an offer — not what the specific offer numbers were. I told all recruiters that I would make my final decision about a month later, on Feb 18 but had to extend to Mar 8 for some larger companies. Negotiations took 6 weeks.
You can find a more detailed breakdown of my job hunt timeline later in this post, but the specific dates here are not incredibly important. More important is that I set these dates to begin with and when I communicated those dates to recruiters. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the four synchronization points:
Step 1 - Reach out to recruiters. I started reaching out to recruiters 3 months before I would actually begin interviews. At this point, I was reaching out to more than 10 companies of varying sizes. Whittling down the list was easy in the beginning: Not many companies were responding anyways. As recruiters began getting back to me, I had casual calls with recruiters to check basics: Would I need to adjust my timeline to match theirs? Do they have a hiring deadline? Do they have headcount even? What are the basic parameters of the role? In most cases, I also scheduled calls with the hiring manager to determine if our interests were aligned. The goal was to ensure this team's interests were aligned with my own. At this stage, I made early decisions to end interview processes before they started, to save energy. I was evaluating three high-level pieces of each role:
- Company: Are these products I would, do, or could use? Do I believe or at least agree with the mission? Does the mission excite me?
- Role: Did the role leverage my expertise? Did the role allow publishing? Was the role in the critical path for a product?
- Manager: How excited was this manager about me and my profile? Did their expertise align with what I wanted to learn? Did their personal vision of the future excite me?
Step 2 - Communicate the date you start interviews. I had a conference deadline (CVPR) in mid and late November, so I provided interview availabilities for December. After my paper deadline, I then emailed all the recruiters I had connected with, to kick off interviews. This allowed me to control the timeline from the get-go, and it gave me peace of mind, knowing that I had a plan in place — as opposed to thinking constantly about interview logistics or preparation throughout my paper push. Synchronizing all the process starts made it much easier to synchronize future key dates as well.
- Step 3 - Align interviews. As interview scheduling conversations started, I began providing roughly the same 2-week period to all companies. Miraculously, there weren't any race conditions, and my interview scheduling went smoothly. Through these interviews, I had to chance to meet many potential co-workers and my questions revolved around what it was like working with my potential future colleagues: What did "work-life" balance mean to them, if anything? What did they work on, what were the biggest bottlenecks to success, and how was their work related to those bottlenecks? What was their 5-year vision?
- Step 4 - Align on-sites. I repeated the same process for on-sites, providing the same 2 weeks to every recruiter. Since interviews finished and were processed on different dates, I was able to schedule on-sites without conflicts as well. I did my best to place on-sites side by side — hoping to finish all interviewing in one breath.
- Step 5 - Communicate the final decision date. Once verbal offers were made, I kept those offers verbal and communicated a final decision date. This effectively allowed me to wait for several slower approval processes, so that I could have all verbal offers at one time to assess. During the time before your final decision date, you should be negotiating and conducting some soul-searching to find out what you care about. Those two are a longer conversation for another day.
To help set and organize your timeline, see my timeline below as a reference. This will give you a rough sense of how long each company takes to collect interview feedback and consult their hiring committees.
You can use my timeline to understand the rough duration of each stage. In particular, here are a few takeaways, before I present a more detailed timeline.
- When to start your process: You can use my timeline to assess when your process would end. From start to finish, my timeline ran for approximately 12 weeks. For example, if you're looking to finish the job hunt by Christmas, then you would start reaching out by July and begin the process by mid-September.
When to set your final decision date: Allow yourself ample time to both receive all verbal offers, of course, but also to sort through thoughts. Factor in any of these factors you may believe will influence your decision-making:
- Meetings with key players, such as your parents, grandparents, or significant other. Include anyone that's recently gone through the interview process, especially at the companies you're considering. Consider connecting with new-hire groups at your target companies.
- Additional meetings, possibly in-person, with the teams you're considering. Push to meet with employees other than your hiring manager and the recruiter. Most important are the colleagues you'd be working with. If you can, get input from other teams that have less stake in your decision. The farther the employee is from your team, the more general their comments — from your future teammate, ask about the team culture. From a teammate in a sister team, ask about the org and their impression of your team. From a random employee, ask about the company culture and their impression of your org
Assess duration of factors beyond your control: Recruiters generally responded within a few days, if they ever responded. In a significant number of cases, recruiters never responded at all. Follow-ups for initial interviews took around 3 days on average. After the on-sites, hiring committee approval for an offer took anywhere from 5-12 days, with an average of around a week. The longest offer process by far was Apple's, which took 2 months to conclude, beginning from on-sites in early January to a final decision in early March.
Here is a summary of my timelines; I interviewed at 5 companies and was also fortunate to receive a return offer from Tesla. In some cases, multiple teams per company were interested, so there are 10 timelines below:
|Apple||VCV Science 4||11/18||11/18||12/9||1/6||1/24||3/8|
Here are all timeline dates in written form, with companies ordered in alphabetical order; this includes all teams I applied for, as well as dates for individual interviews and phone calls:
Amazon - Chime Team
- Referral: 9/13/21
- Hiring manager call: 9/15/21
- Follow-up: 12/7/21
- Hiring manager call: 12/9/21
- Interview: 12/17/21
- Virtual on-site: 1/14/22
- Recruiter call (verbal offer): 1/19/22
- Hiring manager call: 1/24/22
- Recruiter call: 2/4/22
- Skip level call: 2/15/22
- Declined: 2/18/22
- Hiring manager call: 2/21/22
- Declined: 2/24/22
Apple - Autonomous Systems
- Reached out: 11/18/21
- Recruiter follow-up: 11/18/21
- Interview: 12/7/21
- Interview: 12/10/21
- Virtual on-site: 12/20/21
- Declined: 12/21/21 6
Apple - Video Computer Vision Organization
- Reached out: 11/18/21
- Recruiter followup: 11/30/21
- "Hiring manager" call: 12/2/21 - VCV Science
- Interview: 12/7/21 - VCV Science
- Hiring manager call: 12/14/21 - VCV Science
- Hiring manager call: 12/7/21 - SPT
- Hiring manager call: 12/9/21 - 3D
- Declined: 12/14/21 - 3D
- Virtual on-site: 1/6/22
- Recruiter follow-up: 1/7/22
- Skip-level call: 1/11/22
- Declined: 1/21/22 7 - SPT
- Recruiter call (verbal offer): 1/24/22
- Hiring manager call: 1/26/22 - VCV Science
- Accepted: 3/8/22
Meta - Meta Reality Labs Organization
- Reached out: 11/18/22
- Recruiter follow-up: 11/18/22
- Referral: 12/23/22
- Recruiter follow-up: 1/5/22
- Hiring manager call: 1/13/22 - XR
- Virtual on-site: 2/8/22, 2/10/22 - XR
- Recruiter call (verbal offer): 2/18/22 8
- Hiring manager call: 2/24/22 - XR
- Hiring manager call: 2/24/22 - Mobile Vision
- Skip-level call: 3/1/22 - XR
- Declined: 3/1/22 - XR
- Skip-level call: 3/4/22 - Mobile Vision
- Declined: 3/8/22
Nuro - Self-Driving Perception Team
- Referral: 8/4/21
- Recruiter follow-up: 8/4/21
- Recruiter call: 8/6/21
- Recruiter call: 11/18/21
- Interview: 12/9/21
- Recruiter follow-up: 12/13/21
- Interview: 12/16/21
- Recruiter follow-up: 12/17/21
- Recruiter call: 12/20/21
- Virtual on-site: 1/12/22
- Recruiter call (verbal offer): 1/18/22
- Recruiter follow-up: 2/18/22
- Declined: 2/18/22
Rivian - Self-Driving Perception Team
- Applied: 11/30/21
- Recruiter follow-up: 12/1/21
- Recruiter call: 12/7/21
- Hiring manager call: 12/9/21
- Interview: 12/16/21
- Recruiter (prep) call: 1/5/22
- Virtual on-site: 1/11/22, 1/13/22
- Recruiter call (verbal offer): 1/25/22
- Declined: 1/25/22
- Recruiter call: 1/28/22
- Declined: 1/31/22
- Recruiter call: 1/31/22
- Recruiter follow-up: 2/9/22
Tesla 9 - Autopilot Team
- Recruiter call: 12/14/21
- Recruiter call (verbal offer): 1/10/22
- Recruiter call: 2/9/22
- Hiring manager call: 2/16/22
- Declined: 2/18/22
By the time March rolled around, I was pretty burned out. At that point, it'd been 4 months since I started my first technical interview in early December and about 5 months since I started to reach out in earnest. Fortunately, I had enough energy to last through all the interviews, on-sites, and the bulk of negotiations. However, stagger the timelines any much more, and you could be looking at incompatible offer deadlines or an earlier burnout in the process.
Fortunately, at the end of the process, I was extremely happy with both the role I'd accepted but also the offer that'd been extended. Writing now, 6 months after my start date and 9 months after I accepted, I'm still very happy with how the job hunt went. I hope this guide can help you achieve the same; good luck!
Real-Time Geometric Deep Learning Research ↩
Autonomous Systems, within the Special Projects Group organization ↩
Spatial Perception Team, within Video Computer Vision ↩
Video Computer Vision Science, within Video Computer Vision ↩
Authentic Presence Capabilities Research Team, within the Mixed Reality (XR) People organization ↩
I was informed I could only pick one team from Apple; I informed the recruiter that I ranked other Apple teams higher. ↩
I could only pick one team from Apple; I was on the fence, but the hiring manager needed to fill headcount and couldn't prolong the process much longer. ↩
The offer was valid for either Meta team, and at this point, I needed to pick a team. ↩
I interned with Autopilot the previous summer, so there were no interviews involved. ↩
Got a question? Ask me on Twitter, at @lvinwan. Want more tips? Drop your email below, and I'll keep you in the loop.