by Aabir Abubaker Kar
4 min read


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Reframe the job-hunt || How to get a job

It was stressful getting a job. On paper, it was supposed to be easy. Sure, I had a Master’s from a ‘good school’, whatever that means. But the kicker - my Master’s was in ‘Computational Social Science’, and nobody knows what that means.

As an immigrant in the US on an F1 visa, there was the painful pressure of having 90 days to find a job, or take a flight back to India on day 91. In the longer term, a bizarre political theater featuring multiple threats to cut work visas. With a massive amount in student debt and no family cheques to rely on, there was tens of thousands of dollars of financial pressure too. Then there was the mental pressure of stretching one’s brain at inhuman speeds - also known as grad school. The cherry on top was that we were bang in the middle of the worst global pandemic of our parents’ lifetimes, though probably not of our own.

Yeah, it was stressful getting a job. To fool myself into treating each rejection email as a learning process, I had to formalize the problem and find a solution. Here’s what I came up with.

Three steps to getting a job

  1. DO: Decide which job/s you want

    DO NOT: Chase a bad fit

  2. DO: Learn and practice skills for the job/s you want

    DO NOT: Beat yourself up if you find something difficult or need time or rest while learning

  3. DO: Get interviews, keep interviewing until you get an offer

    DO NOT: Take rejection personally

That’s it. Those are the three steps. Make sure to avoid the DO NOT’s, those can be tricky. But honesly, there is no other way to successfully (legally?) seek employment. It’s time to unpack these steps a little.

  1. DO: Decide which job/s you want

    Most jobs start with an organization that identifies certain needs and advertises a role with a job description and list of requirements. In order to get hired, you need to know for sure what roles you’d be good at. You will save yourself time, effort and angst if you only apply to jobs that fit you well.

    What does this mean? It means you should know the various names of each role you might be interested in. Have ready a list of places that are hiring for it (check all kinds of job listings). Know what’s on the job descriptions. Talk to people working in those roles. Learn how the industry works and what’s important, what’s changing. Evaluate if people’s experiences in those roles/orgs match your expectations and goals. Ensure there is a feasible path to acquiring any skills you might need. Decide on the positions you want to apply for.

    “But it’s so dehumanizing to attach my entire identity to a job description ugh am I not more than just a list of skills.”

    old angsty me

    In retrospect, this attitude was not helpful.

    DO NOT: Chase a bad fit

    Sometimes, we want a job that we can’t have (at least not today) - we may need to sharpen our skills or acquire new ones. Sometimes, we want a job that we shouldn’t have - it would make us unhappy or unfulfilled. Some people are simply not suited for certain career paths - for example, I would make an awful consultant because I like to not be sad (I’m kidding). When evaluating a career or job, it’s important to know your capacities and needs regarding skills you have, your ability to learn new skills, your capacity for stress or unpredictability, your preferred management/mentorship style, working hours, or communication preferences.

  2. DO: Learn and practice skills for the job/s you want

    Once you know specifically what types of work you want to be doing - get better at the doing by doing! This can be an incredibly fun and inexpensive process - unless you go to school for it, hehe. Even so, the sense of purpose and drive instilled by a new project can be very satisfying. Learn for free if you can (I got started coding with help from YouTube and random ebooks). Importantly, DO projects. Projects, even simple toy ones, help you formulate a problem in your field and solve it. That might sound lame at first, but it’s a powerful thinking tool - like being in a job simulator. In my view, learning a skill without channeling it into a project is wasteful and leads to incomplete retention of the skill. Nice bonus - your projects are most of what you’ll list on your resume and talk about in your interviews.

    DO NOT: Beat yourself up if you find something difficult or need time or rest while learning

    Many people, especially immigrants in the US, suffer from impostor syndrome. A friend getting her PhD once quipped “I feel like I have to work twice as hard just to prove I deserve to be here” - that stings with truth. It’s easy to feel like you’re not good enough, like anybody would be crazy to hire you, or like you have little to offer. Tell that voice in your head to go away. You have skills and time and energy. And you have the incredible luxury of deciding how to channel that force in your life. Go from thinking ‘somebody anybody please employ me’ to ‘it would be actually be nice to work here/do this with my time’. Say it out loud with me - I am not looking for a job that makes me feel bad about myself. A great work environment is one where people feel empowered to get exactly the support they need to solve problems - not one where people feel constantly alone and under threat of failure.

  3. DO: Get interviews, keep interviewing until you get an offer

    Get good at applying for jobs. Success = interview, nothing else. You should be improving your odds of getting an interview at every step of the pipeline. Fit your resume to the job description without lying (there are cool tools that help you do this - search ‘resume scanner’). Get that referral, get every referral - each referral has a 1000x chance of an interview than sending a PDF into the void. Cold message people on LinkedIn - ask for a referral, to chat, whatever. Go to conferences and job fairs. Keep expectations low and regularity high. Set small, manageable targets. Put more time and effort into ‘dream jobs’. Take care of yourself. Manage your mental health, stress, and anxiety.

    Once you get an interview, prepare for it! Ask a friend or mentor to mock interview you. Review commonly asked questions. Research the company and its current employees. Practice talking about your projects. Practice answering questions you know how to answer. Practice asking smart questions about things you have no clue about.

    DO NOT: Take rejection personally

    An email rejection never contains constructive feedback and should not be treated as feedback at all. Resumes, especially 1-pagers cannot be be used to rank people in any meaningful way. People hack them all the time (and so should you, without lying). This is why you should focus all your attention on shooting for an interview, and not on missed shots. Only post-interview rejection is worth introspecting.

    boilerplate recycled text in every rejection email There is no useful feedback in any of these emails. Still, my self-loathing would activate every single time - “Ah yes I too regret to be informed that I will obviously die unemployed and vilified as a skill-less con artist.”

That’s it. If you’re looking for a job, there are only these 3 steps. You can and should be working on all three - ensure you’re applying for the right jobs, ensure you’re working on being a great fit for them, and ultimately, ensure you can get and nail that interview. A few closing thoughts:

  • If you did get interviewed and were rejected - that can be powerful feedback. Someone seriously evaluated you for the position, and then chose someone else. There could be powerful fodder for growth if you have the vulnerability and sincerity to ask why. Perhaps your skills could be sharpened a bit, or perhaps you haven’t found the best fit for your profile yet. Don’t be afraid to reach out for constructive feedback from your interviewers. Most likely they’ll not reply, but if they do they might have something useful to tell you - like a different position you might be better suited to, or a skill they needed that you were missing. Besides that, completely random experiences can sometimes make or break a fit, so sometimes, it’s just chance that you weren’t picked. It is okay to not be certain why you got rejected. It is not okay to beat yourself up about it.
  • Interviews should be a place where both, the employer and the employee review each other. You should feel empowered to say no to an employer if they don’t match your expectations or goals. Of course, as an immigrant who was desperately seeking my first post-Master’s job, this is an entirely theoretical hill I choose to die on.
  • Remember - a job exists to take advantage of your skills and channel them into something that is (ideally) financially sustainable (either by turning a profit or achieving targets that help maintain funding). Even a great job, a dream job will ultimately have that bottom line that makes you valuable to the organization. The nice part is that good jobs can facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship where you get to learn, grow, and get paid. Don’t get attached to places that didn’t want you in the first place.
  • Say to yourself everyday: I belong. I have skills. My self-worth is not tied to the status of my job-hunt.

Say to yourself everyday: I belong. I have skills. My self-worth is not tied to the status of my job-hunt.

How we think powerfully affects what we do and how we do it. I wish you a minimally stressful and maximally rewarding job hunt. Nothing can stop you when you start doing what feels right to do.


In thinking through this post, it helped me to formulate the job-hunt as a Multi-Armed Bandit Problem (MABP).

The MABP is a popular trope in machine learning and probability that illustrates of the explore-exploit problem. Imagine a casino with an array of slot machines (the kind with a hand-crank, also called a one-armed bandit because it has one arm and robs you of your cash). Each slot machine has different odds for each $ payout. A gambler with infinite money steps in, ready to make more infinities. He has to solve the problem of maximizing his payout by exploring the behavior of the machines to find good strategies, while also exploiting those strategies. It is a fine balance to strike, as the two cannot be done simultaneously.

How does this apply to the job hunt? Well, each slot machine is just a job application. You have fixed odds of getting an interview out of each job, and your job is to maximize those odds. You’re trying to get as many shots at interviews as possible, but can only tailor your application to one position at at time. So you have to iteratively build skills, present a resume/application that shows how you’re suited to a job, then interview for it - for multiple jobs with overlapping skillsets at different organizations. You have to explore skills, fields, learning paths, projects, and careers - while exploiting your natural strengths, your available resources (like time, energy, the internet, universities, money) and your capacity.

Personally, I’d rather not think of exploiting myself - so I reframe it as functioning at a healthy and sustainable capacity.

Maybe I’ll write more on thinking with the MABP in the future - let me know if you’re interested in the comments below.