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.

How to get a job faster

This is a guest post from Taylor Desseyn. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

Finding a job was hard for a new developer pre-pandemic…now during a pandemic it is just as hard but add in the fact that you can’t meet anyone! It can be daunting.

Here are my thoughts on how to find a job FASTER than most other job seekers.

Put out content

Put out content (especially on LinkedIn). You’re probably asking yourself. Taylor, I’m an introvert and not a marketer, what does putting out content have to do with finding a job? The answer? Everything. The fact we all are at home and cannot network has everyone on all major social platforms more than ever.

LinkedIn especially. LinkedIn is like tik tok. You can have zero followers and still gain a ton of traction. I know a handful of developers that have documented their journey finding their first job over LinkedIn and actually have landed their job because of putting out content.

Post at least once a day. This could be about an interview you bombed, or a question you missed on an interview and ask for help, or learning a new piece of tech and asking about one part of it. You should also be liking and commenting on other peoples posts as well!

Interview yourself

Video Interviews…Selfie style. This is a big one for me and only a few developers have done it. But guess what, the few that have, landed a job and one specifically because of this tactic.

Hear me out, every first-round interview is the same. Tell me about yourself, tell me your weakness (which we all turn into a positive), and tell me your greatest strength.

Why don’t you just video it up and answer these questions yourself and put it on LinkedIn and ‘pin’ it under the featured section on LinkedIn. So, every manager that visits your profile can see you! Here’s an example.

You need real world experience; get it

Capstone/code school projects aren’t enough. Long gone are the days of having a capstone project and it being enough to land a job. You need real world work experience so, if you can afford it, start asking around if you can help build small things for people. Every church needs help with their website, a lot of entrepeneurs need help with building stuff for free.

I get it, this area is such a divisive topic but for me, the only way to separate yourself is to get real world work experience and what better way to do that then volunteer your time?

Network, but don’t ask for anything

Now you probably are asking yourself, Taylor you said “put out content”, AND I have to now network?

Yes…yes you do. You need to make sure you are having one intentional video/phone call a day with someone in your network at a company that you want to work at or someone who does what you want to do.

You shouldn’t go into any networking call with a stranger asking for something. Be interested in what they do and how they got to where they are. Then ask for another connection but don’t ask for a job. Because when you don’t ask, you immediately endear yourself to that person so down the road if they get a job opportunity they will think of you first because you were different.

The big thing is at the end of every call, ask for a referral. Try to get another connection out of every call. My 55 year old dad did this in the restaurant industry and found a job in 6 months.

It works.

Leverage a recruiter

Most recruiters don’t place junior talent but the good recruiters can give you market intel, help your resume, help your LinkedIn, and can be just a general sounding board for you as you start searching for that first job.

— Taylor

Taylor Desseyn has been recruiting for over nine years and while he recruits on every skillset within technology, his main focus is on software engineers and developers. He has met over 4,000 engineers and helped place over 450+ people in their dream jobs.

Taylor has been very active in the community – he’s been elected VP of the .NET User Group (the second largest user group in Nashville) for 3 years. He has also presented at multiple other user groups within Nashville. Taylor has also been fortunate enough to get on the speaker circuit across the southeast, having presented at code conferences such as Code on the Beach (Jacksonville), Music City Code (Nashville), and Codestock (Knoxville).

Taylor has a knack for scaling teams as well. He has helped scale teams internally at Vaco up to 3x their initial size every stop he has been. He also was chosen to present at Vaco’s Global Conference on branding/marketing. Taylor is currently leading a team of 9 recruiters and has helped scale his currently technology team from $2 million in revenue to $6+ million in revenue.

How I Got a Job Two Weeks After My Coding Bootcamp

This is a guest post from Randall Kenna. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

Two weeks after I graduated my coding bootcamp, I had an offer. Two weeks after that, I started my first engineering job at a small startup.

Here are some of the strategies I used.

Treat your job search like it’s your job.

I was exhausted after I graduated from my bootcamp. But I had spent more than$15,000 on tuition and living in San Francisco so I knew I needed to get a job quickly to prove the financial investment was worth it. It was so tempting to just spend those two weeks napping on my couch and recovering from the most grueling process of my life but using the momentum I had from graduating the bootcamp was critical. I had read about a lot of students that had let their skills get rusty and it had taken 6–12 months for them to find a job.

From the hours of 9AM to 6PM, I was job hunting. I was obsessively updating my resume, finding new jobs, reaching out to connections, finding meetups to attend, and honing my skills. After 6PM, I wouldn’t respond to recruiter emails or do any prep work for interviews. I used that time to recuperate and prepare for the next day.

Optimizing my LinkedIn

The company that I ultimately ended up taking an offer at actually found me through my LinkedIn. For all the applications that I sent and meetups that I attended, they ended up finding me and asking me to come in for an interview.

I filled out my LinkedIn with my prior jobs to show that even though I didn’t have a ton of engineering experience, I had a past career where I had been paid to code a little in some of my past jobs. I added every course I had taken and every certification that I had gotten during the bootcamp to show that I was very interested in engineering and it wasn’t just a job to me.

Quickly moving on from companies that weren’t a fit

A few companies had interview processes that were equivalent to Google. They wanted a coding bootcamp graduate to be able to solve complex algorithms that even a software engineer with a CS degree and years of experience would have struggled to complete.

I would have spent so much time preparing for just one interview at one company when instead I could use that time to go through the interview process at several companies. I told the company that the process was far too intense for a junior engineer and moved on.

You don’t have to use this strategy however if you’re willing to put in a lot of time learning algorithms and focusing on building some CS foundations. Some people in my cohort focused on their algorithm skills and it took a little longer to find a job, but they started out with a better title and higher pay.

Build a coding portfolio

Thankfully, my coding bootcamp had helped me create a large portfolio with several applications. I was able to take this to prospective companies and discuss what I had learned during the project. In my final project, I had focused mostly on frontend so I took that work to companies and detailed exactly what I had worked on.

If you don’t have a portfolio yet, just get started on something small and push it up to GitHub. Each time you create a new project, challenge yourself to make it a little more complex than the last project.

Proving I was eager (and desperate) to learn

Two companies told me I could build a project in the framework that I was most comfortable in. But I knew that if I spent a little time learning the framework that they used, I would improve my odds of standing out.

Over the weekend, I taught myself the framework one company used and built a small (and very barely working) app that used it. I was able to discuss the principles of the framework and even though my app broke during the demo, I got the job.

This was a risky strategy because I ended up not spending any time learning the other framework for the other company but it worked out in the end when I received an offer from the company.

Focusing on my strengths and not my weaknesses

I knew that I wasn’t going to do super well at companies that focused on algorithms and prioritized having a CS background, so I intentionally found companies that wanted to focus on mentorship and had real world interviews.

In the interviews, I discussed how I had prior career experience that would benefit them if they hired me and I had been coding at those jobs as much as I could.

It definitely wasn’t easy but anyone can get a job in coding if you treat your job search as if it’s your job and keep improving your skills.

Sincerely,

Randall

This post was originally published at RandallKanna.com.

Randall Kanna is a Senior Software Engineer at BaseHQ, speaker and O’Reilly author. She’s formerly worked at companies such as Eventbrite, and Pandora.

Don’t sign anything you can’t understand

Dear new developer,

I want to preface this with the fact that I am not a lawyer, so please don’t take this as legal advice. This is my experience with employment contracts and other legal adventures as a software developer.

When you are starting a new job, you’ll be confronted with a big basket of paperwork to sign. Actually, nowadays it’ll probably be a pile of PDFs. When you leave a job, you may sign a termination agreement, which again will be a lot of legal documents.

Read all of them. If you don’t understand something, ask what it means.

These legal agreements can profoundly affect your career. (Here’s an example of a noncompete causing a fair bit of legal pain.) It also doesn’t really matter what someone like your boss says when you are hired or leave–it’s the legal documents everyone signed that will control. (Often the employee handbook is incorporated by reference into your starting docs. Ask to see that as well.)

So read them and understand them. If someone won’t answer what a phrase means, seek info from someone else at the company, perhaps HR. You should, in certain circumstances such as a layoff, make sure you get the document reviewed by a lawyer who is looking out for your interests.

I have only sought advice from a few lawyers in my life, but all of them I found through referral. I’d recommend finding your lawyer that way as well. Ask family members, other professional contacts, or even people you’ve interacted with online in your area for a recommendation. A good lawyer should:

  • cost a lot of money–my most recent lawyer charged $475/hour
  • be willing to listen
  • focus on understanding what you want from them (for example, “is this employment contract normal”)
  • stick to your budget; make sure you communicate that
  • be local–different laws apply in different countries, states and cities
  • have expertise in the area and be willing to refer you if they don’t

You’ll pay for the certainty of a lawyer’s review, which is why you should check out the documents and only ask about sections you don’t understand, rather than sending them the entire document.

Now, for higher risk/return situations, it may be worthwhile to have every document reviewed. When I joined a startup as a co-founder, I had the entire agreement reviewed. But I don’t do that for my normal employment agreements or any contracts I sign as a consultant.

There are three main benefits of reviewing these agreements. (I’ll focus on employment agreements as those are by far what I have the most experience with, but realize you should read and understand any legal document you sign.) The first is that often there is scope for you to protect previous projects, ideas or side businesses. This can be as simple as listing the project in broad terms. Should you have any desire to commercialize a project in the future, doing this ensures it is not entangled with your employer’s properties.

Another benefit is that you’ll know your rights. Even if the agreement is punitive, wouldn’t you rather know, rather that discover it after you’d violated the contract? Here are things I look for in an employment contract:

  • Who owns what I create while on the job? As an employee, it will almost always be the employer. If you are contracting, it can vary and I know people who’ve started businesses because they had the insight to ask for non-exclusive rights to the code they were creating.
  • Who owns what I create while not on the job? In most cases, you should own anything you build on your own time, but be wary if the company works in a similar area, and if you use company resources to do the building. Get clear on this. (Some states, such as California, have explicit laws explaining the boundaries.)
  • What limits are placed on me after I leave? Do I have a non-compete, and if so for how long? How broad is the non-compete–what areas of employment are now off limits? What about confidentiality agreements? Is there anything else I need to do? One company employment agreement dictated I let them know where I was working for three years in the future.
  • What am I getting paid? Any salary or bonuses that were mentioned verbally should be included in written form, either in the offer letter or employment agreements.

It’s worth noting again that the verbal promises of anyone at the company are typically worth far less than the written agreement. I’ve had some employers honor verbal agreements (and those are good employers to stick with!), but typically when the rubber meets the road, what is written down is what will be enforced. So if someone says “ah, don’t worry about that clause” then simply ask if you can strike it from the document. And if someone promises you something, ask for it in writing. No need to be arrogant, but realize that if anyone in a business setting won’t put a statement in writing, getting what was promised will probably be difficult.

The final benefit of reading what you’re signing is that now that you have protected some of your previous inventions (if any) and know what you are agreeing to, you can negotiate.

The amount of leverage you have to change any of these agreements depends on how big the company is and how much you are desired. If you’re a new developer and the company is large, they probably won’t budge. If you’re a senior engineer that the hiring manager really wants, clauses can be negotiable. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

I understand that you may not feel you have a lot of power. You may have gone through a grueling interview process and may not have many other options if you don’t take this job. In that case, you don’t have a lot of negotiating power, but at the least you can know what you’re agreeing to. The earlier you can see these agreements, the better. The best is if you can see them before you turn down any other job offers.

At the end of the day, these agreements can have a large future impact on your career. They can limit who you can work for, what you can do, and who owns what you have made. Understand what you are agreeing to.

Sincerely,

Dan

The best career advice I’ve ever gotten

This is a guest blog post, lightly edited, from Josh Doody. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

Let’s talk about jobs.

My first job

I was 25, and I wanted to move my career along as quickly as possible. I had my first real job, and had gotten three raises and a promotion in only two and a half years, nudging my salary up 12% from when I started. I was feeling pretty good.

Then two things happened that changed my career’s trajectory. First, my boss told me that striving for big raises and promotions would get me nowhere. “The way things work around here,” he said, “is you might get a big raise one year, or even two raises, but they’ll eventually work out so that you’re right back at the average. It’s hard to get ahead or fall behind.” He meant that I might be on top now, but eventually I’d regress to the mean. My boss had been working at the company for 30 years, so he knew what he was talking about. Ouch.

Second, I had been begging for a new challenge and just hadn’t gotten one. I had been looking for ways to stay interested, but got more and more bored, so I asked my boss for a new challenge. He eventually offered me a new opportunity: the same work I had been doing, but in a crummier location. I asked if we could keep looking.

A couple of months later, my boss came to me with yet another opportunity: I would move to a different building and redraw schematics for a 20-year-old piece of test equipment. I could hardly believe it, but he’d actually found a worse position than the one I’d already turned down.

But he made it clear that I couldn’t keep saying no to these opportunities—I was being too picky, and it was making both him and me look bad—so I reluctantly accepted the position.

I moved from a building where I had tons of friends and a 10-minute commute to a building where I had no friends and a 40-minute commute. The clock was ticking on my time at that first job.

Looking for something new

I started looking for a new job for two reasons: first, I needed to get out of there; but second, I wanted to know if I was over-valuing my abilities. I was young but self-aware enough to realize that one very plausible explanation for my frustration was that I just wasn’t very good at what I was doing. Maybe my boss was in the uncomfortable position of having a really ambitious, but really ineffective employee on his hands. Maybe he had done everything he could to pacify me without putting me on an important project that I would just screw up.

Around this time, a friend reached out asking if I knew any web developers looking for work. I told him that I did know someone…me! I had a little bit of web development experience and after we talked, he suggested I might be a good fit for his startup’s client services team. I interviewed with the company’s CCO and he offered me a job as a Project Manager. I had also been interviewing for a managerial position in a different city and, although I didn’t get that job, those two opportunities reassured me that I was a valuable enough employee to take seriously. I happily took the Project Manager job at the start-up.

Before I could start my new job, I had to wrap things up at my old job. Ironically, my manager on my temporary project (redrawing old schematics) had been the best boss I’d worked for my whole time there. On one of my last days, as we were looking over some schematics, he gave me the best career advice I’d ever gotten:

Josh, your first job is where you get your first job. Your second job is where you get experience. Your third job is where you get paid.

My second job

My second job meant a career change from electrical engineering to project management. I took a small pay cut, but that was completely reasonable considering I had no client-facing experience. I went on to work there for five years, scratching and clawing my way to a slightly higher salary than I’d been making as an engineer.

Of course, the money wasn’t what I was after—I wanted experience, and I found it by pursuing unusual opportunities, including a “special project” that ended up being crushed after nine months and getting me laid off. But they soon hired me back to work in a different capacity, which again provided great experience for slightly less pay. This position marked my second pay cut since starting my career, and I was making exactly the same salary I’d made as a test engineer, five years earlier. But by then, I had amazing experience and was in a position to move nowhere but up.

After five years in my second job, I finished up my MBA, which I’d been pursuing on the weekends. I decided to quit and take some time off to travel, relax and recharge.

My third job

After my hiatus, an old colleague from the start-up reached out from a different company: “You looking for work?” I was, and my experience landed me my third job, where I would make almost 30% more money than I had been making when I quit the start-up eight months earlier. Just like my sage manager said, my third job was where I got paid.

I’m glad I heard that advice during my first job, because it allowed me keep putting in time when things got tough. I knew that getting paid was inevitable if I continued to do good work and gain experience. That advice allowed me to stop obsessing over raises and promotions and start focusing on trying new things and building my resume so that when I did encounter a lucrative opportunity, I would be ready.

Sincerely,

Josh

Previously published on JoshDoody.com

Josh Doody is a salary negotiation coach who helps experienced software developers negotiate job offers from big tech companies like Google and Amazon. He also wrote Fearless Salary Negotiation: A step-by-step guide to getting paid what you’re worth to help software developers navigate job interviews and salary discussions to earn more throughout their careers.

You have to fit the job

Dear new developer,

A few years ago I was job hunting (during a hot job market and with almost two decades of experience) and had a lot of people turn me down or say I wasn’t a good fit. Sometimes it was for coding ability, sometimes it was for familiarity with various systems, sometimes it was because I wanted too much money. I have turned down or left jobs for a variety of reasons, including money, demands on my time, or even just a bad feeling.

What I want to drive home, dear new developer, is that a job needs to fit both sides. The employer and the employee should both feel like they are getting a good deal.

The honest truth is that this means that there are some jobs that you could perform well at that the employer doesn’t know, believe or trust that you can. That can be a blow when you are looking for work. I’ve been there, hungry for anything that will help pay the bills. But you have to have faith. And keep looking. There are lots of developer jobs out there, at big companies and small companies, product companies and consulting companies, software companies and companies that don’t know they are software companies yet. And often, especially as a new developer, you can get hired for your potential.

I’ve also been in jobs where I contorted myself, either a little or a lot, because I thought that was what was needed. I’m all for taking one for the team for a while and doing an unpleasant task or job. But if I have to do it for months and years then that is the wrong job for me.

You have to fit the job, and the job has to fit you.

Sincerely,

Dan

What is the best surprise of being a new developer?

Dear new developer,

I was asked recently at a talk I gave about what was the best surprise of being a new developer. I was talking at Turing School, and had discussed some of the things that surprised me when I was starting out.

There are a lot of great things about being a developer. For all that is wrong with the software industry, when you are a developer:

  • flow happens
  • you are doing office work (typically)
  • there are smart people around you
  • you are paid well (compared to many many jobs–median pay for any job in the USA is 32k in 2018 and for software developers it is 105k)
  • you get to learn all the time

So all in all it’s a pretty great job.

But the best thing and what surprised me a bit as new developer (and makes me sad) is how much developers are listened to. Or, rather, how little folks in other professions are consulted and listened to (based on anecdotal evidence and conversations, sorry no hard data).

So, being a developer (in a healthy team and company) means that your opinion is heard.

Sincerely,

Dan

Job hunting tips for new developers

Dear new developer,

Joe Marshall has some interesting tips for new developers (he calls them “junior developers to be” but developer nomenclature is so broken that I prefer the term “new”). They are focused around finding a job (and Joe has a newsletter to help 🙂 ).

They range from the simple: “Read coding interview books.” to the arduous: “Github helps, but take it beyond toys. Real projects have stakeholders.” to the practical: “Take notes during interviews.”

I purposely focus on all that you need to know to succeed as a new developer apart from getting a job (though I have written a few things about interviews). I do this for two reasons:

  1. I’m no expert at getting a job as a junior developer. It’s been a long time since I did that, and the world has changed. I’m not sure I’m a good resource to help anyone get a development job, since I’ve only gotten hired for full time employment four times in my career.
  2. There are a lot of other great resources out there, and it’s a topic that many write about (because it matters a lot)

But this choice doesn’t mean I can’t point to helpful posts elsewhere. Suggest you read the whole thing.

Sincerely,

Dan