Suitable is defined as “right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose or situation.” Suitable work means thinking about more than just skill level. It’s about the strengths you possess beyond the technical talent. How much communication is involved? Are you comfortable with that? Do you have to face clients or lead a team? Will you be performing in a group or working as a solo contributor?

Suitable work as a software developer often means you must put more weight on the non-technical aspects of the job than the technical ones. To land the position that’s most suitable to your entire skillset, you must also consider where you are in your career and what managers need to see from you to hire you.

Your Early-Career Job

If you’re looking for your first or job as a dev, focus on the actual process of the code. Most companies don’t expect junior developers looking for their first or second job to be as proficient as someone with several years—or even one or two years—of experience. They want someone who is thinking the right way and willing to learn. To that end, smaller companies are going to focus more on the ability to learn and be taught. That’s why highlighting your thought process is so important.

Most companies hiring junior developers expect to invest a decent amount of time into leveling them up. When you are doing your technical interview, walk through how you would solve the problem and explain why.. Don’t be too put off if you don’t know what the answer is; the hiring manager knows you’re a new dev. What they want to see is how you would solve the problem.  

Another thing managers are going to take into account is your trajectory. We live in a time where people are more prone to job hop than to stay somewhere ten, or even five, years. Know what your goals are, and know how those align with the company you’re interviewing with short and long term. Most managers don’t expect employees to be with a company for the long-haul, but they do want to bring people on that have an idea of where they want to be in five, ten, fifteen years, and beyond. With that in mind, let’s talk about the manager job.

Your Manager Job

Being a manager requires more than just a great handle on the technical aspects of the work. To be a people manager, you need to know what your people are capable of and how to get those capabilities out of them. Before we get into the specifics of what makes a good manager, here’s a few stats I want to point out:

  • Companies fail at choosing the right talent for open positions 82 percent of the time (according to Gallup).
  • Only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work (worldwide, that number drops to 13 percent).
  • About one in ten employees have what it takes to be a good manager.

These numbers are important because they highlight how difficult it is to find a good manager; how hard it is to be a good manager; and how many actually have what it takes to manage people. Companies fail at choosing talent so often because managers have a difficult identifying potential employee’s strengths and their current employee’s weaknesses. Perhaps they can’t see those weaknesses because there is a high rate of disengagement. It’s also possible, though, they were promoted to a manager position and are part of the 90 percent who are ill-suited for it.  

What do those ten percent have that the other 90 do not? How can you be a good manager? According to Gallup, great managers have the following talents:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

Notice that nowhere in those five traits does it say “be technically sound.” It’s obviously crucial to have a grasp on the technical work you’ll be overseeing. Great technical managers, though, know that the code is king. They need to be articulate and patient leaders. To land that job as a manager, you need to demonstrate those qualities.

When you’re in the interview, emphasize your ability to build relationships and engage in open dialogue. Show that you are capable of motivating others to work together more efficiently and you aren’t afraid to confront conflict with compassion. Talking to people, especially when the conversations are difficult, is imperative to being a successful manager.

You Can Be Successful as an Individual Contributor

Maybe becoming a manager isn’t for you. Maybe you want to continue to climb the ladder, but don’t want to have direct reports. There is a huge misconception out there that you can’t be successful without leading a team of tens, hundreds, or thousands. Let’s debunk this right now: you can absolutely have a wildly successful career as an individual contributor.

If you do choose this path, keep in mind the communication skills discussed in the post are still in play. You are going to have to talk to people. Often, they’ll be non-technical, and you’ll need to explain technical work and ideas. You’ll have to occasionally work with people which means you’ll need to be a good collaborator. Individual contributors need to work just as well with others as managers do.

The main takeaway to finding suitable work is that it isn’t only about technical ability. You must be a well-rounded contributor and look for work suited to your strengths.