Continued from the previous article.
January 2019. I was looking for a software development job when I was about to complete my MS in Computer Science at the University of Southern California (USC). My classmates were getting offers from big companies like Google and Amazon after their summer internships.
As it turned out, I was able to make it in the end. It was not easy, but I got three job offers. If you are looking for a job as a software engineer in the US, this article would be a good reference.
Since there are NDAs, I don't want to go into details about individual companies. I'll just give a general outline. If you want to know the specifics, please ask me directly.
How I Got My First Offer
I got my first offer from a small startup in Los Angeles as I wrote. This is one of the few cases in which attending a university career fair led to results.
I was given a homework assignment and went to an on-site interview. It was a common process. I had been practicing coding interviews on Pramp and TripleByte, and finally got my first offer. I will write more about Pramp and TripleByte in another article.
When I negotiated the salary with the CEO, it seemed that the offer was not as good as I had expected, so I finally decided to decline it. At the same time, I was still interviewing at other companies and had received offers, so I was able to be bold.
I will continue to describe how I was able to get the other offers below.
Got Referrals from Japanese Acquaintances or People I Met for the First Time
From my previous experience, I knew that I would not be able to proceed to phone interviews without referrals. So, I decided to take action to get as many referrals as possible.
For those who are not familiar with software engineer job hunting, I'd like to describe how referrals work. Referrals are recommendations from people who work at the company you're applying for, but they don't need to be very formal. In the software engineering community in the US, a referral can be as simple as meeting someone at an event and talking to them. That's enough to increase your chances of getting an interview. As I found out after joining an American company, a referral at the level of having worked together is treated differently from a referral at the level of having talked at an event. For example, if you get a recommendation from someone you worked with on the same team in the past, it would be a very strong referral and a big plus in whether you get hired or not. However, for me at the time, I didn't need to ask for that much, and it was enough to get through to the interview.
I decided to take the opportunity of my temporary return to Japan from the end of 2018 to the beginning of 2019 to meet people in Japan who are related to companies I wanted to apply to. In the US, if you send a message to a stranger in English on LinkedIn, it will almost always be ignored, but if you send a message in Japanese in Japan, you will often get a response. In the US, there are a lot of college students who send messages for referrals (cold messaging, apparently), but not so many in Japan. This is an advantage of being one of the few people from Japan.
I reached out to many people working at American companies who might be interested in meeting with me, and unexpectedly, many of them agreed to meet with me. For example, a company that does business with an OSS is used all over the world. A speech analytics startup from Silicon Valley with an office in Japan. By asking people I follow on Twitter and sending messages to strangers, I was able to meet them in person, tour their offices, and talk to them about their team structure and the products they are focusing on developing in the future. I was very grateful that they took the trouble to meet me, as I had no deep connections with them.
The Second Offer
I had an interview through a referral from a person I had talked to in Japan and got an offer from a startup headquartered in Mountain View. Even though it was all online, it was one of the best interview experiences I've ever had.
The focus of the interview was quite different from other interviews. It seemed to focus on the cultural fit of the team. There were very few coding questions, and the interviews were more about what technologies I was following and what excited me. The technical skills were graded by homework-style assignments, which was a welcome relief from the pain of coding interviews.
The product manager of the team was also the hiring manager. Her frank, polite, and sincere explanation helped me understand the team's structure, culture, goals, and the kind of person they were looking for. It was a fair hiring interview. In the end, I turned down the offer, but I would still like to work there if the opportunity arises.