How to Build a Career in AI, Part 7: Optimizing Your Job Search

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Illustration shows an AI job searcher heading into the workforce.

Dear friends,

I’ve devoted several recent letters to building a career in AI. In this one, I’d like to discuss some fine points of finding a job.
The typical job search follows a fairly predictable path.

  • Research roles and companies online or by talking to friends.
  • Optionally, arrange informal informational interviews with people in companies that appeal to you.
  • Either apply directly or, if you can, get a referral from someone on the inside.
  • Interview with companies that give you an invitation.
  • Receive one or more offers and pick one. Or, if you don’t receive an offer, ask for feedback from the interviewers, the human resources staff, online discussion boards, or anyone in your network who can help you plot your next move.

Although the process may be familiar, every job search is different. Here are some tips to increase the odds you’ll find a position that supports your thriving and enables you to keep growing.


Pay attention to the fundamentals. A compelling resume, portfolio of technical projects, and a strong interview performance will unlock doors. Even if you have a referral from someone in a company, a resume and portfolio will be your first contact with many people who don’t already know about you. Update your resume and make sure it clearly presents your education and experience relevant to the role you want. Customize your communications with each company to explain why you’re a good fit. Before an interview, ask the recruiter what to expect. Take time to review and practice answers to common interview questions, brush up key skills, and study technical materials to make sure they are fresh in your mind. Afterward, take notes to help you remember what was said.

Proceed respectfully and responsibly. Approach interviews and offer negotiations with a win-win mindset. Outrage spreads faster than reasonableness on social media, so a story about how an employer underpaid someone gets amplified, whereas stories about how an employer treated someone fairly do not. The vast majority of employers are ethical and fair, so don’t let stories about the small fraction of mistreated individuals sway your approach. If you’re leaving a job, exit gracefully. Give your employer ample notice, give your full effort through your last hour on the job, transition unfinished business as best you can, and leave in a way that honors the responsibilities you were entrusted with.

Choose who to work with. It’s tempting to take a position because of the projects you’ll work on. But the teammates you’ll work with are at least equally important. We’re influenced by people around us, so your colleagues will make a big difference. For example, if your friends smoke, the odds rise that you, too, will smoke. I don’t know of a study that shows this, but I’m pretty sure that if most of your colleagues work hard, learn continuously, and build AI to benefit all people, you’re likely to do the same. (By the way, some large companies won’t tell you who your teammates will be until you’ve accepted an offer. In this case, be persistent and keep pushing to identify and speak with potential teammates. Strict policies may make it impossible to accommodate you, but in my mind, that increases the risk of accepting the offer, as it increases the odds you’ll end up with a manager or teammates who aren’t a good fit.)


Get help from your community. Most of us go job hunting only a small number of times in our careers, so few of us get much practice at doing it well. Collectively, though, people in your immediate community probably have a lot of experience. Don’t be shy about calling on them. Friends and associates can provide advice, share inside knowledge, and refer you to others who may help. I got a lot of help from supportive friends and mentors when I applied for my first faculty position, and many of the tips they gave me were very helpful.


I know that the job search process can be intimidating. Instead of viewing it as a great leap, consider an incremental approach. Start by identifying possible roles and conducting a handful of informational interviews. If these conversations tell you that you have more learning to do before you’re ready to apply, that’s great! At least you have a clear path forward. The most important part of any journey is to take the first step, and that step can be a small one.

Keep learning!

Andrew

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