6 Tips for Evaluating Job Offers as an Engineer: Insight from Lattice’s Jamie Lau
Jamie Lau is not competitive.
She's a big fan of board games, but prefers cooperative ones, where teams win by working together. "It ruins it for me when people get too competitive. I'm like, 'Ok, it's just a game.' Some games are friendship-breaking, and I don't want any of that," she says.
A personal favorite board game is Dead of Winter, described as a "meta-cooperative psychological survivor game" based on a hypothetical zombie apocalypse. "You know, that could happen. I gotta be prepared!" jokes Jamie.
The software engineer's desire to work together translates off the table, too. After she completed a coding bootcamp and switched careers, Jamie found herself staring down a handful of job offers. With the help of advisors and lots of personal reflection, she developed an understanding of what mattered to her when it came to choosing a work environment.
Collaboration was high up there, which is why she now works at HR tech platform Lattice.
We sat down with Jamie to hear more about her career change and how she optimizes her career based on her priorities.
Learning what matters to her
Jamie did a pre-med track in college, but realized near graduation that she didn't actually want to be a doctor. "I didn't think I could get through it. And I didn't know that even if I got through it, I could deal with having someone's life in my hands," she says.
So she took an administrative job—and ended up staying there for three years.
"It's very easy to settle into something stable, but I wanted to be in a place where I would actually flourish," she says. She'd always been curious about coding, though she hadn't pursued a computer science major in college because her school's CS program wasn't great.
Jamie considered going back to a different school to study programming, but realized an intensive bootcamp was a better option for her and her goals. "I figured it was four months of my life, I'll see what happens, worst case I'm back to square one!" she says. "It would be short-term confirmation of whether I could even be in the field, without having to commit myself to four years of a degree."
When she started the program, she had a general sense that she liked building things, and after finishing it, her interest was confirmed. Jamie is careful to call it an interest and not a passion, though. "I like it, and I find enjoyment in certain things, but I wouldn't compare myself to a person who is so passionate that coding is their hobby. I don't spend my off days sitting in front of my computer, coding," she clarifies.
All of that is, once again, part of Jamie's understanding of herself and her priorities. Yes, she wanted to be an engineer, but no, she didn't want her job to take over her life, or be her only hobby.
6 tips for evaluating engineering job offers
After Jamie got over some of the imposter syndrome she faced upon switching careers and built up her confidence enough to successfully network and interview, she found herself having to make a decision about where she wanted to go in her career.
Here's what worked for her in evaluating her offers, all built on what Jamie calls "the legwork and detective work of figuring out what you want":
While in the interview phase:
1. Know what you want. This is the most important advice Jamie has: not all companies are created equal. She knew, for example, that she didn't want to be at a high-growth startup because being the second engineer somewhere small meant her day-to-day life would be chaotic and stressful. She preferred to be somewhere more established. "There were things I knew about the type of environment I wanted to be in and where I would learn and grow the best," she says. That environment needed to be collaborative, too. "At the end of the day, I didn't want to go to a place where people were competing with each other, where you hear backtalk, where there's brewing resentment. Culture and people can make your life and your job enjoyable, or not."
2. Look for red flags and the inside scoop by reaching out to your network and connecting with current or past employees, when possible. Jamie reached out to friends and friends-of-friends to hear about their experience, as well as to check her gut on how those people made her feel.
3. Do your own research. Companies put a ton of information out there, from their websites to their partnerships with organizations like PowerToFly. See how they've talked about things you care about, whether it's diversity at work or how they consider growth. "Don't fly blind before an interview because no one is going to hand you all the information you want nor is one source going to be the final truth," Jamie says. "Ask yourself: 'Do I know how to find more info on a company's culture? How can I find info on the company's salary bands or if they pay well? How would I know if a company has had some turnover recently?' etc."
4. Ask hard questions. "Remember that they're not just interviewing you, but you're also interviewing them," says Jamie. She recommends Lynne Tye's Key Values for help coming up with good questions to ask in your interviews (and the kinds of questions you ask the most frequently will also give you good insight into what matters most to you!). If you have more questions after you've gotten the offer, don't be afraid to follow up and ask to talk to additional people.
After you have the offer in hand:
5. Get external advice and perspective, but don't let it drown out your voice. Early on in her process, Jamie realized how valuable it was to get advice from others in the field, from people who had completed bootcamps ahead of her to friends she'd made along the way. People outside of the field were helpful, too, including Jamie's family. But she had to make sure that she listened to her own gut, too. "At the end of the day, you're the decision-maker. No one's going to accept an offer for you. No one is going to interview for you. No one is going to negotiate for you; you have to rely on yourself." The most helpful thing was when friends helped Jamie hear herself: they'd repeat her own reactions back to her, or say things like, "It sounds like you really like them, you seem excited."
6. Triangulate salary and make sure it's fair. "While salary may not be everyone's top priority, you still want to make sure you're being compensated fairly," says Jamie. There's a culture of hush-hush around talking about money, she adds, but she purposefully ignored it, and was all the better for it. "It's about switching that mindset to not be angry if someone has a higher salary. The person you have to be frustrated with is the company, if they offered you a lower salary," she says. "I wanted to set myself up for success in the future. Say I took a 50k job offer—then my standards and expectations for my next job offer would be different than the reality of the market rate," she explains.
When Jamie felt ready for a new challenge last year and commenced her job search, she started off again with tip number one—know what you want. But having built her confidence and her experience with a couple post-bootcamp roles, she felt more comfortable being particular with her list of wants.
"When I was looking for my first engineering job, I didn't feel like I was in a position to be choosy. I just wanted to get hired… This last time, I focused more on what I wanted—the kind of company I wanted to be at." She initially thought that would be a company in the healthcare or ed-tech space, but decided to accept an interview at Lattice after a recruiter reached out because "it couldn't hurt to see what else was out there," and discovered one final lesson: keep an open mind.
"You can think that you know what you want, and I thought I wanted to work in health tech or ed tech, but I ended up realizing that what I actually wanted was to work on a product that I believed in with good people in an environment where I could grow."
Jamie was a fan of Lattice's software, which she'd used previously, and after interviewing, she realized she was really a fan of the people.
"Even before my onsite, the recruiter did such a good job of showing off what the company was about and being totally human—chill, chatting, connecting. Everyone I met at Lattice were regular people, trying to do good work, trying to find good people to come to the company," she says. "I wouldn't have gotten there if I hadn't kept an open mind and decided to respond to the recruiter who reached out to me. It never hurts to see what else is out there."