This piece is a part of ‘The Career Strategist’ blog series
Landing your first job is often the hardest. If you’re looking for a role as a junior software engineer, it’s no different. There’s a myth that just because there’s great demand for software engineers in the industry as a whole, employers will hire any Tom, Dick, or Harry who rolls up off the street, freshly out of a coding bootcamp or an undergraduate computer science program. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Like in most other professions, there is no golden ticket to guaranteeing employment after completing your studies, regardless of what educational route you pursued. Fortunately, there are a few strategies to improve your chances of standing out to employers even when you’re lacking depth in your professional experience.
Beyond having the right skills, you need to show that you can apply them in practice. If you’re struggling to land that first full-time job, consider pursuing an internship or a contract role that will let you put your skills into practice. Both of these strategies not only add to your work experience, but give you an opportunity to build new relationships and expand your professional network. Oftentimes employers hire new grads as interns to evaluate and gauge their skills before determining whether converting them to a full-time employee makes sense for the team. Since getting hired after an internship is not guaranteed, don't skip out on building relationships with fellow colleagues to build your professional network.
The same goes for a contract position. Large tech companies rely on thousands of contracted workers, who are employed by a separate staffing company, to do a lot of the work strategized by their full-time employees. Being a contract worker at Google or Amazon gives you great exposure to what it’s like in the working world and in the industry as a whole. Alternatively, you can refine and highlight your skills by pursuing freelance work on Upwork, creating your own projects, or contributing to an open-source project on GitHub.
You can never make a first impression twice, and that is especially true in the job search process. As a more junior candidate, you can’t rely on your work experience to speak for itself. Be intentional with how you organize your résumé; focus on highlighting the right skills, and making sure that you’ve had someone else proofread your résumé. Resist the urge to fluff up your résumé or stretch the experiences you do have. Hiring managers are trained to identify candidates who do this, so it’s best to portray yourself accurately. While fleshing out your résumé and career profiles, make sure to avoid these common mistakes. Once that’s done, work on building your career narrative so employers know what you’ve done (in terms of education, work experience, and projects), what you’d like to do, and what skills you have that are needed for the role in question. If you’d like to get further into the nitty-gritty details, fine-tune which types of external links -- be it a personal website, blog, or social media -- make sense for you to share with potential employers.
Your professional network, both online and offline, can be more valuable than meets the eye. Your network is made up of individuals with similar interests, values, and may lead to knowledge sharing, friendship, or even an unexpected introduction to a job opportunity. Some of these networks include college alumni groups, fellow bootcamp graduates, coworkers and acquaintances you’ve met doing internship or contract work. If you feel comfortable, ask any individuals who’ve met and worked with in these capacities to connect or even recommend your work on LinkedIn.
Beyond the network you already have, you can expand your professional network by attending tech or developer meetups. Browse sites like Eventbrite, Facebook, or Meetup to find local events that pique your interest. Say you just learned Ruby, you can find nearby Ruby meetups where you can learn from Ruby developers who have used the language for years and get a sense for the roles that may align with your experience. While this might not lead to an explicit job opportunity, you can glean valuable insight into what it takes to get further along in your career and to see if it matches what you’ve established in your career narrative.
Although landing your first software engineering job can feel like an uphill battle, there are strategic steps you can take to truly stand out above the competition. Beyond having the skills required for the job, never underestimate the value of tapping into your network and positioning yourself for success.