Fewer Applications, More Interviews: How Professional Allies Can Help You Land Your First Jr Dev Role

This is a guest post from Dagny Wise. Enjoy.

Dear New Developer,

Even when your GitHub is a work of art, your portfolio is up and running, and your resume is looking good, it can be rough to get hired as a career-changer who’s never worked as a dev before.

Before you throw your money into an endless abyss of possible certs you could get to try to stand out, try leveraging what you already got – you!

A bit about me: I left my sales job to complete a coding bootcamp. It was part of my bid to get out of sales, and work towards a role where I can bounce between tech- and non-techy stakeholders. What follows is what I’ve learned from the process of job-searching as a career-changer during a pandemic, and landing my first job offer in the hidden job market. While I’m not a developer, the methods I’ve outlined below are useful to anyone trying to land their first job in a new role.

Think about it: unemployment is quite high right now, and everyone applies online. Many qualified, experienced people are among those unemployed. But take heart – you can differentiate by making professionally-minded allies.

What’s a professional ally in this context?

A professional ally is someone who is invested in your success. They might be a friend, family, former coworkers, folks you knew in school but didn’t really talk to, or strangers you’ve never met. You’d be surprised who ends up wanting to help you!

An ally does not have to be someone with hiring power, or domain knowledge, or someone who works somewhere you want to work, or even someone currently employed.

All of these things are awesome bonuses, but anyone who wants to help you may be able to connect you to more strategic people. And anyone who genuinely wants to help you succeed is already awesome, so it’s important to think of them that way.

How do you find your allies?

1). Make a list of all the broad categories of your life where you could connect with people. For example, your schools, former workplaces, that summer camp you did for years, all of it.

2). Mentally go through everyone you remember from each of those categories, and connect with the ones you remember on LinkedIn: everyone gets a message. Something short. It can be simple, but it should be at least a little personalized.

Something like “Hey person’s name, I was looking to connect with more people from name of highschool, and I was excited to find you on here! I hope you’re doing well.

3). If they ask you how you’re doing, respond organically, but focus on your career goals. 3-4 sentences tops. Conversational.

4). If they ask follow-up questions on your little intro, demonstrating interest in what you’re doing, congrats! You now have a new ally!

Why do all of that? Because professional allies open doors for you.

They can get you referrals at companies you want to work at, significantly increasing your odds of getting an interview. They can tell you about hidden market jobs, and they can help you make more strategic allies. And the best part: when you get your position as a result, YOU have the opportunity to become one. Awesome.

What it Looks Like To Make an Ally:

After doing all of the above, I connected with George, an acquaintance from high school. I didn’t immediately see what George could help me with because he’s a contract UX Designer and my dream was to work in Product. I told him what I was pursuing anyway, and he seemed genuinely interested in helping me. Great!

I went through George’s LinkedIn contacts and I found several people working in product, and a founder of a startup that George told me was looking to grow their team. I asked George if he knew any of these LinkedIn connections well enough to feel comfortable introducing me, and gave him some names. He said he was very happy to hit up 2 out of those names, and he did!

One of the product people got back to me, a VP of Product who I’ve talked to a few times via Zoom, and I’m still in touch with. It’s amazing to have someone so experienced in the field to bounce ideas off of, get advice from, and generally have me in mind when opportunities come up.

What It Looks Like to Get a Referral

Companies LOVE referrals – it saves them money when a good employee brings in another good employee, rather than picking from a giant pile of faceless internet applicants. It increases your odds to get a referral on your application – and you can get quite a few of them by nurturing professional relationships.

For example: I didn’t know anyone who worked at this awesome EdTech startup, but I saw them always topping lists of awesome places to work, so I knew I wanted a connection there. Not knowing anyone personally who worked there, I reached out to a couple people I’ve never met who worked in Product. One got back to me, and I coordinated a 20-30 min conversation via Zoom. She was super nice, answered my prepared questions, and said yes when I asked if she’d be comfortable referring me. I sent her my resume, and got an email from the recruiter later that day to schedule a phone interview for the role we talked about!

Fun fact: You can message strangers this for free on LinkedIn by “adding a note” to your connection request – no need to pay for Premium! Just make sure to introduce yourself, mention something specific about why you want to talk to them, and make a specific ask (ex: 20-30 mins of their time for a chat about their experience at company). Some won’t get back to you, but that’s ok.

What It Looks Like to Break Into “The Hidden Job Market”

Maybe you’ve heard of the Hidden Job Market? It refers to jobs that get filled but are never posted online, and professional allies are the best way to learn about these awesome opportunities.

For example: I reached out to a founder of a start-up George told me was looking to expand their team. We’ve had several interviews, and are currently in final talks about logistics. The role is as a Product Manager. I would likely never have had access to this opportunity without George, as it was never posted online.

Make Sure To Do Right By Your Allies

Professional allies are powerful! Maybe as a job-seeker right now you don’t feel like you have a ton to offer them. That’s ok! If someone responds with interest to you, you can proceed confidently knowing that they like to help people/you.

The best thing you can do, though, is do as much of the legwork as you can to save your allies’ time. Check out their profiles before you speak with them. Offer to send the Zoom invite. Keep the conversations within the agreed upon time frame.

And of course, say thank you.

If George introduces you to Jessica and Jessica gets you a referral for an awesome job, thank both of them. It can be a couple lines on LinkedIn, via email, whatever works. Consider keeping track of the folks who help you a lot, message the recurring ones every once in a while to say hey, or update them on your search.

As you develop into the professional badass you are destined to be, you will have ample opportunity to become someone else’s ally: you are working to pay it forward.

— Dagny

Dagny Wise is a a creative problem solver excited about leveraging her background in sales along with her passion for technology to bridge the gap between technical and non-technical stakeholders and solve complex problems.

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