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Finding a Tech Job Is Still a Nightmare

Finding a Tech Job Is Still a Nightmare

Tech companies have laid off more than 400,000 people in the past two years. Competition for the jobs that remain is getting more and more desperate.

a conference room with large glass windows with an expansive city view with three office chairs in bubble wrap

Photograph: Shannon Fagan/Getty Images

Dozens of applications and interviews, hours spent tweaking résumés, and a conference and career fair turned Hunger Games. Finding a job in tech is a mess.

The past year has brought a reckoning for the once unsinkable industry. Tech companies around the world laid off more than 400,000 workers in 2022 and 2023, according to Layoffs.fyi, a site that tracks job losses across the industry. A year after many of those cuts began, job seekers are still facing a tough market, fighting for a smaller number of spots in a job sector that once promised high salaries, lavish perks, and security.

The tech job market “doesn’t show any signs of turning around just yet,” says Julia Pollak, chief economist with online employment marketplace ZipRecruiter. After growing at a healthy pace before and during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the information sector has lost about 2.5 percent of its jobs over the past year, Pollak says. That’s keeping more people at the same jobs for longer, she adds, and stifling promotion opportunities. There is still demand for tech workers outside of the traditional tech industry, like in government and health care—though salaries here are often lower.

Big Tech companies like Meta, Google, and Amazon have cut tens of thousands of jobs in recent months. Hiring freezes at many firms have followed. Meta recently rehired dozens of the people it laid off beginning last November—a drop in the bucket compared to the 11,000 people it let go last fall—and then completed more layoffs in its metaverse-focused Reality Labs division. The layoffs came after historic periods of growth in 2020 as Covid-19 raged. Companies hired more than they could sustain—and workers continue to pay the price.

The prolonged downturn in the tech market is breeding anxiety and making people more aggressive in their job searches. In September, men showed up in droves to the Grace Hopper Celebration, an annual conference and career fair targeted toward female and nonbinary tech workers, who are underrepresented in the industry.

Videos from the conference showed long lines, with people running to the job expo as staffers yelled for them to slow down. The conference, meant to connect and celebrate women in tech, exemplified the desperation workers feel as they try to land jobs after completing computer-science-related majors. The conference’s organizers did not return a request for comment.

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Kari Groszewska, a senior at Vanderbilt University studying computer science and economics, says she attended the conference and arrived at the expo hall 15 minutes early one day, only to see that a line to speak with companies was already several hours long. The vibe, Groszewska says, had shifted from the year before. She felt discouraged—particularly because she does not have a job offer for when she graduates next year.

“I have done ‘everything right’ studying computer science,” she says, including following advice to work on personal projects, pursue internships, and join clubs. Groszewska says she is “disheartened” by the state of the job market she will soon enter.

Other unemployed people are already feeling the pressure. Nia McSwain has been looking to make a transition into tech from the hospitality industry for the past month, with hopes of becoming a project manager. She says she spends her days sending out job applications from morning to night and estimates that she has applied for about 40 roles each day. “It’s been a little rough,” says McSwain, who lives in Florida. “I’m trying to break into it.”

Full stack engineer Philip John Basile finished a contract in May and has been looking to land another one since August. He estimates he’s had about three interviews a day in the past month and has gotten close to a role in a few companies, but he hasn’t been picked yet.

Basile, who lives in the suburbs of New York City, says he has focused on networking by chatting with people on LinkedIn and Discord. Many of the recruiters he knew from previous positions are also out of a job, and he’s had to build new relationships.

Basile says he has also spent his free time studying AI tools, and he keeps tweaking his résumé, cutting it from 10 pages to two, then beefing it up to 24. “There’s a lot of jobs out there, but there’s a lot of people looking for work,” he says. So he wants to “try to be as unique as possible. If you’re competing with 1,000 other people, you have to try to stand out.”

The layoffs have been particularly stressful for foreign workers in the US, who have been left scrambling for sponsorship to stay in the country after losing jobs. But data shows that many were able to find new jobs after being laid off.

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And in the tight market, supply of workers is high: Some 780,000 registrations were submitted as of July 31 for this year’s H-1B visa applications, the visa used by foreign workers to secure tech jobs in the US. That’s up more than 60 percent from the year before—leading the US Citizen and Immigration Services agency to suggest that some people may have submitted multiple registrations to game the system. There is an annual issuing cap of 85,000 H-1B visas.

Younger workers are also having to leap over additional hurdles to get a job. Rachel Sederberg, senior economist with labor market analytics firm Lightcast, has seen a downward trend in job posts seeking entry-level workers, and more skewed toward experienced employees. That has led the median salary for job postings in the US tech sector to jump from $61,000 a year ago to $79,000 this fall, Sederberg says. Companies “right-sized, realigned, and readjusted,” she says. “They started hiring back up. They’re likely hiring for different profiles.”

Then there’s everyone’s favorite new toy: ChatGPT. People are using the chatbot or other AI tech to help them write résumés and cover letters, which allows them to apply to more jobs in less time. But that can also give recruiters more noise to sift through.

All of these obstacles mean that looking for a job is a full-time job. Kimi Kaneshina, a San Diego-based product manager, says her 9-5 is spent applying for jobs, and she is even networking afterward or making videos for TikTok to document her process. Kaneshina has been looking for work since July, and while she feels like the process picked up speed in September, she hasn’t found a new role yet.

Still, the shift may have brought positive changes to the tech world: People are posting openly about their layoffs on LinkedIn and TikTok and connecting with each other and people employed at desirable companies. With so many people laid off, it’s become more acceptable to talk about it. “I’ve had recruiters tell me, ‘Half of the candidates I’m interviewing have been laid off,’” says Kaneshina. That stigma, she says, has almost been removed.

WIRED has teamed up with Jobbio to createWIRED Hired, a dedicated career marketplace for WIRED readers. Companies who want to advertise their jobs can visit WIRED Hired to post open roles, while anyone can search and apply for thousands of career opportunities. Jobbio is not involved with this story or any editorial content.

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Amanda Hoover is a general assignment staff writer at WIRED. She previously wrote tech features for Morning Brew and covered New Jersey state government for The Star-Ledger. She was born in Philadelphia, lives in New York, and is a graduate of Northeastern University.
Staff Writer

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