Context: I’m a computer scientist and during 2018 and 2019 (while I was 23-24) I started being involved and committed in a lot of side activities, while getting my MS in Computer Science.

I’ve been recently asked by a lot of friends and collegues finishing college, transitioning jobs or starting a master how to choose a job and what factors/which positions and employers should they consider in picking activities and contracts. Here’s what I did.

Realising your power and avoiding choice fatique

If you are involved in Computer Science, Data Science, Machine Learning or in general you do/study something under the “programming” umbrella term during these times, in Europe or US, you are able to choose from thousands of different jobs typologies and “configurations”.

In any business or field you can possibly imagine.

First step is to realise this, then not let it become a burden.

Having so much power and so much possibilities can easily make you experience choice fatique after a bit, leading to worse or sub-optimal decisions. Organising yourself and building a workflow to use to judge opportunities can save you from that, while you also getting some insights on yourself and what you want.

Working while getting a master

I also think that starting to work during your master / last period of your bachelor is a really healthy and constructive idea:

Being able to choose the right “side activity” during my Master’s Degree was essential to push my career forward while having a lot of fun, getting some money and implementing some of the stuff I was studying in university, while developing social and communication abilities.

One of the most important skill you are forced to learn and train if you start a job while studying is time scheduling and prioritising stuff. Maybe paradoxically, once I learnt how to split time between social stuff, study, work and personal relationships I found myself with a lot more free time than before. And I was getting better grades too, since university wasn’t the only thing I had to do anymore, I had to do that quickly and efficiently.

Job Questions

Here’s a list of questions I compiled and I used to ask during interviews to help me understand, contextualise and discriminate job offers.

First things first:

  • Ask the interviewer about his/her background. best things about the place, etc
  • Limits AND CONTRAINTS! fulltime/parttime/ any other need.
  • Try to understand the role and the position of the person interviewing you, tuning you expectations/distortions based on this.
  • Was my CV really taken into consideration? Try to understand it, asking about the reasons I should be a fit based on what it’s in the CV.
  • Is there anything about my background or resume that makes you question whether I am a good fit for this role?

General:

  • What are the current goals that the company is focused on, and how does this team work to support hitting those goals?
  • What can you tell me about your new products or plans for growth?
  • What’s your business

Training/stage phase:

  • How long is supposed the training phase to last?
  • Who will follow me during this phase?
  • What am I supposed to do and learn?

Activity related:

  • What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the role? How, and how often, are they measured?
  • What is the typical work week? Is overtime expected?
  • If I am extended a job offer, how soon would you like me to start?
  • How does the daily routine looks like? Is overtime expected?
  • How I am supposed to take the feedback/adjust my work? And how often?
  • Who does this position report to? If I am offered the position, can I meet him or her before making my final acceptance decision?
  • What do you see as the most challenging aspect of this job?

Progression:

  • Where have successful employees previously in this position progressed to?
  • How do you measure “success”?
  • Are there opportunities for advancement or professional development?
  • What are the prospects for growth and advancement?
  • What are the common career paths in this department?

Contract features:

  • Is relocation a possibility?
  • Salary?
  • Study leave?

Keep in mind that those are just general directions, and the way you approach and process the answers to this questions is usually more important than the questions themselves. Take some time to think about them.

Another thing to deeply consider is the distortion and the bias everyone will have in answering these stuff, based on their position, their interests in hiring you and their experience.

Wrapping up

At some point, you will still have to make a choice you don’t want to.

And even after all the discriminations and exclusions you could make based on these questions and their effect, you’ll have to let go a lot of things and commit to something else. Just like life in general.

I personally have 3 more points to consider at this ultimate step:

Long term vision

One of the dearest person I had the luck to be supervised by and work with at CERN said:

Think of what would be really cool to be doing in 10 years, and consider how much that gig gets you on the way (if at all).

That really stuck with me.

Challenge, kicking yourself out of your habits

This is really something personal and related to your situation but a lot of the things you probably heard about “getting out of the comfort zone” have some sense.

Take some time to evaluate how much and in what ways you are ok to being out of your comfort zone and be challenged with stuff you know nothing about. Push yourself: in different countries, backgrounds, positions,… It will be scary, but it will definitely pay back.

Keep doing that (and eventually step back), you will be able to outline with more clarity your limits and actual capabilities.

The human factor

Give some relevance to what you think about the company business, what felt talking and engaging with your future supervisor / colleagues.

Ultimately, it’s about who, not what.