Get hired as an Engineering Manager - part 3: Searching and Applying

Get hired as an Engineering Manager - part 3: Searching and Applying
Mizuki Heitaro: Abstract Pattern Portfolio (1930)

We’re covering the entire process of getting hired as an EM together with Péter Batiz, an experienced consultant who’s been helping startups and scale-ups find tech talent for more than a decade. We divided the “getting hired” process into five parts:

🔎 Capturing your Preferences
📝 Perfecting your CV and LinkedIn profile
📥 Searching and Applying - this article!
💬 Interviewing
🤝 Closing the offer

Following our series, by now you should have clarity in your preferences, nailed down your LinkedIn profile, and created one or two foundational CVs that you can customize for jobs. In this part, we’ll address the long and tedious process of searching for jobs and give tips on applying for them in a way that increases your chances of getting an interview.

Where to find open jobs

As we explained in the previous post, by 2024, most recruiting is happening on LinkedIn. Get familiar with the tooling available under LinkedIn Jobs, and set up alerts for the most important search combinations. LinkedIn doesn’t allow you to do very fine filtering, most of your options are in selecting the right title. Experiment with variations, for example, for a line manager position, you might want to set up alerts for Engineering Manager, Software Engineering Manager, and maybe Team Lead. For a level higher, you can consider Senior Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering, VP of Engineering. These latter titles can have big differences in scope and responsibility depending on the size of the organization. 

While most job posts are available on LinkedIn, it might make sense to check other sites too from time to time. However, the chances of finding a great position that’s not advertised on LinkedIn are slim, still Otta, Indeed, Wellfound, or Glassdoor Jobs might turn up something interesting. 

It also makes sense to take out your list of preferences, find out what companies could be a dream match for you, and check their career pages regularly. Some might even have a general “apply if you think you could be a good fit regardless of positions” option, where you can have a chance to get your foot in the door. 

Even if they don’t have an opening suitable for your preferences and experiences, you might want to check who’s working there in an internal recruiter position and reach out to them on LinkedIn. You’re both motivated to fill a job, so there’s a common interest. Even if they don’t have any openings, you can get on their radar and feel out their organization. The need for Engineering Managers is usually less pressing than ICs: existing staff can manage a few more people for a while, reorgs can be flexible, and a Senior EM can get hands-on temporarily if someone leaves. This means that there might be an opening not yet advertised. Either way, be mindful that you’re essentially doing a cold call: be humble, short and to the point, respectful of the other person’s time, and don’t worry too much if it leads to nowhere. 

If you know someone at a company where you’d like to work or can get an introduction, it’s worth trying to ask for a chat with the CTO or VP of Engineering too. You can try a generic reach-out explaining your interest in their field or tech stack, your experience, and asking for advice. This used to be a great strategy in a climate where companies were desperate to find good talent – now it’s not the case, so prepare for no answers. That being said, the majority of engineering leaders I know would be OK with helping out an ambitious EM with a short chat – if they have the time.

Another strategy is to follow news sites related to the tech startup scene and VC investments (TechCrunch is a great example). Once you see a company raising funds, you can bet they’ll start hiring soon. Move these to the top of your list, and start to network to see if you know someone there. If you can get on their radar before an official job opening, you have a better chance of getting ahead of the competition.

Finally, it might be worth contacting recruiting agencies and headhunters, especially if you’re not looking for a remote job. These companies will hear about new positions first, and a good relationship with independent recruiters is a win-win situation for everyone. You might have had a bunch of cold reach-outs from recruiters around 2020-2022, go into your LinkedIn message history and pick up the discussion – but even if not, a quick search to see which agencies are operating in your area and get yourself on their radar can bear some fruit later in your job search.

What positions to apply for

Be aware that in the current climate, companies are looking for perfect fits and are less likely to take risks. In EM roles especially, there can be big differences in expectations between organizations. Focus on the positions where you’re a good solution to the problem the company has, and you can show it with your CV. This is not the ideal time to try to get a more senior title with a company change. If someone is looking for a Senior EM, it’s going to be an uphill battle to prove your worth if your previous title was EM, especially if you don’t have much of a track record on this level.

There’s a similar question: should you apply for positions you’re overqualified for? The current job market is especially challenging for EMs, and we hear stories about people with CTO, VP of Engineering, and Senior EM titles in their past applying for levels below their experience. Painful as it sounds, in most cases, this has a slim chance of success. A director at a big US tech company shared in an online leadership community that there’s guidance for hiring managers not to accept applicants leveling down. Painful as it sounds, it makes sense: there are too many candidates to risk investing in a person who is just using this position to wait out until a better opportunity appears – or, because most companies are not planning to grow soon, be disengaged due to a lack of challenges. Our advice is: if you choose to apply for jobs below your latest title, know that there are companies where this can be a red flag, and have a clear story that explains why you’re doing this. The cover letter (see below) is a great place to address these concerns proactively. It can be external circumstances (recently moved to a new, smaller city), or career motivations (you miss being close to the “front lines”), but the best option is to find a connection explaining why you want to work at this specific company even if it makes taking a scope- and pay-cut. (Eg.: a great product that you use, a mission that matches your purpose, etc.) Still, know the impact a refusal for a lower-level job can have on your motivation and self-esteem, and don’t read too much into it. 

A note on international remote work. This can be mostly relevant for people in a country that’s in the same timezone as the US or Western Europe, but the cost of living is lower. Engineers from South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe are familiar with this setup (I also used to work for a French company from Hungary). Frustrating as it is, filtering for truly remote international positions like these doesn’t have a great user experience yet. 

On LinkedIn, the vast majority of companies advertise for country-based remote jobs (eg: “Germany (Remote)”), most of the time meaning that you can be 100% remote, but need to be in the same country for regulatory or other reasons. Depending on how good you feel your fit is to the company, we encourage you to try applying to positions like these even if you’re in a different country, and discuss the option of getting hired via proxy companies like Remote or Oyster. These “employment as a service” providers, despite being around for half a decade now, are still not very well known. A good candidate for a management position might convince a company to integrate them into their HR processes. It’s a slim chance in the current climate, but if it works out for you, then you’re already ahead of the majority of the competition who didn’t try. 

Another option is to use job boards dedicated to remote work, like the one from Remote or Landing.Jobs, allowing you to only browse truly international remote positions. The catch in these positions is that they receive a lot of applicants, so companies are reluctant to open them, and in the current job market, will probably prefer to fill positions locally. 

Either way, know your chances for international remote jobs: because of this climate and company preferences, you’ll have enormous competition, so you better have an unfair advantage to have a realistic chance of getting in. This can be a unique experience in the same rare stack the company is using, having worked at a competitor, or knowing someone inside who can vouch for you. 

The cover letter

This is the ugly ducking of the application process: most people hate the cover letter, because they perceive it as an unfair chore that they have to invest more energy into, saying the same things as in their CV, without knowing if they’ll even get a reply. But they are wrong. The cover letter is free advertising, and it can be a secret weapon that makes the difference between getting an interview or getting rejected. 

Here’s a useful way to look at it: treat your cover letter as a personalized, targeted trailer of your movie. Remember how we explained that companies have a problem that they need someone to solve and that the job description is the manifest of this problem – and your CV should show that you’re the right solution for it? Look at the cover letter as the glue that binds the requirements of the job description with your skills and experiences explained in the CV. 

Because there are no formatting rules for a cover letter, as you only have to write a paragraph or two of text, you have immense freedom to emphasize areas that are important to you. Be personal, honest, excited, and curious. Explain briefly what you worked on, but focus on building blocks that create the bridge between you and the company. Just like with your CV, your goal is to convince them why you think you’re the best candidate for their team – and you only need to get the recruiter excited enough so they call you.

I found a good example from my past: back in late 2021 I applied for fully remote Engineering Manager positions, and this was a cover letter I sent to Relive, a sports activity sharing startup:

Hi there, 

I'm Péter Szász, an Engineering Manager from Budapest, Hungary. Two of my biggest passions have a great overlap with what you're looking for: helping engineers be the best versions of themselves – and cycling. I immediately fell in love with the simplicity and beauty of what the Relive app provided back then (my first video is from September 2016!), converted a few of my friends, and kept on visualising my rides since. When Strava decided to kick you off their platform, which would've destroyed 9 out of 10 startups, you managed to pivot immediately to utilise other services, while maintaining transparent and helpful communication to your users. This shows the resilience and agility of your team, which is something to be truly proud of.

While I'm an experienced developer (most familiar with JS/Node/TypeScript now), I spent most of my last 20 years leading engineers in various roles, as you can see from my CV. Sometimes it meant managing a small web development studio, at other times working in an international company ensuring all the engineers from Russia through Europe, South America and the US are on the same page and feel like they are members of one team. The common theme between these experiences is that I love the challenge of creating and nurturing an empowering, safe, responsibility-based tech culture for engineers to thrive in. 

I'd love to discuss the problems and challenges you're facing now, and find out if I can help you with them. Either way, keep up the good work!


Of course, not every position is a lucky match like this - and to be fair, despite a great interview experience with Relive, I didn’t end up working for them. But with some creativity, I’m sure you can find an overlap between your personal and professional self and the company you’re applying for.

Here’s a tip that Jeremy shared in our latest podcast: this is one of the few areas in job searching where the smart use of AI can help you a lot! Feed ChatGPT or your favorite AI tool a job description and your CV, and ask it to write a targeted cover letter! You probably shouldn’t use the result verbatim, but it can be a good starting point for your final version. Another useful approach is that after you have your draft, feed that to ChatGPT too, and ask what it would modify, add, or remove to ensure you’ll get a call from a recruiter. 

Track your applications

Ideally, you have a lot of application processes in progress, and it’s easy to drop the ball if you don’t use some system to track them. Back when I was last searching for a job, I created a simple spreadsheet that I cleaned up and made available to use as a template (make a copy if you plan to try it). I have instructions on the first tab, the high level is: have a running log of events, and keep on re-evaluating companies about how excited you are about them, and how excited they are about you. I found that these two metrics, while simple and intentionally subjective, are a great way to capture how I’m feeling in a process. Together with this and filtering the logs, you have a job search dashboard that shows you in one glance where you are at various places. 

If you already work in Notion, you can try the Job Tracker template from David Weiss - the UX of dragging cards Kanban-style is arguably more pleasant than typing in a spreadsheet. 

Also, small data geekery, if you track your applications, you can create cool charts like this once you’re done (actual data of my last job search):

Final thoughts

Make job search and applications a recurring task in your days, so it does not depend on your mood or motivation. Don’t stop applying until you have an offer, or are extremely confident that at least one of your ongoing processes will result in one. It’s much easier both mentally and efficiency-wise to respectfully withdraw from an application process if needed, than start from zero right after a rejection. It can be challenging to show enthusiasm to an unknown company when you’re in the final rounds with another, but persistence pays out.

With attention to these details, smart targeting and customizations, and relentless persistence, you hopefully booked your first interviews. This is where we’ll continue next time - add your email here to get a notification once it’s published.

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