How to land your first developer job?

6 ways to stand out as a junior developer.

Learning to code and develop a web application is tough. Whether you learn all by yourself or in a bootcamp the first step into that industry is the most important. You decided to go all in and make a career change to become a software engineer.

The second step is to find your first job as a developer. It can be a little frightening to compete with all of the other junior developers, with no experience to back your application.

However, as junior developers, we are all different and the key here will be to make that difference shine, and to highlight the best aspects of your personality and what you can bring to the lucky company that will hire you.

Let’s look at 6 ways to do this!

Value your background

You are now a developer, even if you are too modest to admit it, this is now the industry where your career will grow.

But I am pretty sure this was not always the case, that you spent a few months or a few years in one or many other industries. You left the previous one for some reason but you kept with you the things you learned.

Maybe you were working at a restaurant and learned how to work under high pressure. Or you were a sales representative (that’s my case) and you can understand a business problem. It can be anything related to your experiences before starting this coding adventure.

Your first work now is to write down those soft skills you acquired that could be valuable for the company that will hire you as a developer.

I can assure you that when a company is looking to recruit a junior developer, your soft skills are as important, if not more, as your technical knowledge. Your future managers know that even if you are out of an intensive bootcamp, you still have a lot to learn, and they will need to teach you a lot.

But here are the questions they ask themselves:

  • Does this person will get along with the team?

  • Is she/he organized?

  • Will she/he receives feedback?

  • Is she/he hungry for learning?

Help the recruiters answer these questions by providing examples of how you dealt with real-life situations in your previous jobs. It will do half the work to convince them you are a good person for their team.

We are often annoyed by companies saying they are looking for Junior Developers with 2/3 years of experience. This doesn’t mean it has to be experience in this industry, you can prove that your previous jobs gave you the skills necessary to bring value to this company.

Use your Network

If you are like me or some of my bootcamp friends, you would think that this idea of using your network is pointless, and as you don’t know anybody in this industry, you better not rely on this to find a job. And I think we are all wrong and it doesn’t have to always be the case.

By network, we don’t always mean “in this particular industry”, as there are many people and companies that can help you get that key first developer job opportunity. It can be some family relative that would need a website for their company or a communication agency in your neighborhood.

Basically, every company around you could need to use the skills you learned to add value to their business. Because it is not about begging for a job or an internship, it is about bringing your value to the table and making these companies realize how you could help them develop their core business.

That’s why it is really important to understand a company's needs before you candidate. Then you will be able to come up with solutions for them in your application. Many of the developers I know found their first job from their network, I think it is worth the time you will spend to list every person you know that might need your skills. Also tell your family and friends as early as possible you’re going to look for a job at the end of the bootcamp, or when you will be ready. They will have the information in their mind and might mention it in their future conversations. Then, who knows?

Know your projects

Whether you are learning all by yourself or in a bootcamp, you are likely to do projects to train your skills.

Keep in mind that projects are not only for training or for grades, they should find their places on your resume, and on your LinkedIn profile.

Of course, you are still a junior developer and there are chances that your projects are either a group work, a tutorial-based copycat, or something pretty basic. It doesn’t matter at all. What matters is what you have to say about it and what it says about you. These projects give you the material to tell the recruiters a story about yourself, where you are the storyteller.

For each project, take a piece of paper and write down the answers to the following questions:

  • why did you choose this topic?
  • how did you pick these technologies?
  • what did you learn in the process?
  • which difficulties did you face and how did you handle them?
  • what are the key features that make you particularly proud.

If the project is group work, it is the same, except you should focus on the parts you handled.

The goal here is to extract as much information as possible to feed recruiters. They need to learn as much as they can about you in a short amount of time. Discussing your projects is a good way for them to discover you. You will use these projects to tell the story you want to tell and show off your strengths, your hunger for learning, and your team spirit.

Being a student can be a plus

Depending on where you live and if you are doing a bootcamp, a CS degree, or any other studies, there may be some special contracts you can be employed with for your first experience: internship, short-contracts…

You should be very aware of these possibilities to take advantage of them. A company that couldn’t afford to employ you for some reason, might be able to take you as an intern. If the wage is ok for you financially speaking, it can be a great opportunity as you will gain experience you can leverage later to get a full-time job. An internship can also act as a trial period for the company before they eventually hire you in the end.

So, feel free to propose this solution if you feel that it can help the recruiter to make the move and go on with you.

Also, it is a good thing that you know well the mechanisms of these contracts. Some companies don’t have a real HR department to know these things, so you can bring all the information they need, it will show your willingness to be hired. For example, if your local government gives a tax cut to hire students according to some criteria, you have to be aware of that and use it to convince the recruiter.

Be proactive

This one is kind of an obvious one, but it doesn’t mean easy. For sure, to find that opportunity, you got to try every way possible and there are many.

You can simply answer job posts on LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, or any other job board, it might work but you will be one in the middle of hundreds of other applicants.

One solution is to make a list of companies near your place and go directly to their websites. Most of the time, before a company goes through a job board to recruit someone (and spend some money doing so), they use their own resources first, website or social media. You better keep an eye on these.

If some companies on your list are not looking for a new employee, you can still send a nice application letter to their attention, they may very well consider the idea. And if not, it will still make you a first contact you can come back to in the future.

A quick word on cover letters here, as it is key to go through the first step of the interview process and be able to talk to a real person, please personalize! This is what every company expects, and they will first be looking for candidates that have a real interest in their core business and not someone who just copy-paste the previous cover letter.

A good indicator for you is the time you spend writing this letter. It should certainly take you about one hour to find the information you need, built your argumentation, and connect with your strengths. You will certainly send fewer letters, but your interviews per letters ratio will increase.

Keep your expectations high

Of course, you want and need that first work experience so much to finally put your foot in the door and enter the tech industry. But keep in mind, that this experience will only be a waste of time if it doesn’t meet the right conditions.

The most important one is the people that will manage and teach you (yes, you will still be learning). You need to be in a place where one or several people have the will and the time to explain, answer your questions, give you tasks according to your level, and show you good practices.

If you end up all alone and on your own, you will struggle with your code most of the time and won’t learn much. Both peer programming and mentoring are powerful learning tools, so during your interviews make sure there will be a sufficient team around you and that your manager will teach you web development.

The second thing is to be careful with the tech stack of the company and your missions. The goal isn’t to absolutely land to work on your favorite stack. If you are hungry for learning and you feel confident enough to handle a new language, go on.

For example, if you have an affinity with the back end and learned PHP during your bootcamp, but are now offered an opportunity with a GO stack, feel free to go for it. It is all good as long as you can leverage this experience in the future. To check this, do a quick search on LinkedIn Jobs with this technology and see for yourself.

On the other hand, if the job offer is simply about debugging an old and complex web application written in a technology where there is few job posts, it is your choice in the end but always ask yourself if you could value this experience on the job market later.

Of course, you don’t always have a choice, but it is sometimes better to refuse an offer and wait a little longer than to realize in the middle of your internship that what you are learning and doing every will not be something you can value later in your career.

Wrapping Up

To sum it up and on top of every hard skills improvement you can work on, here are the key aspects I would focus on if I were to find a first developer job again:

  • Your background is key! As you already have experience in another field, you should focus on the soft skills you developed at that time and demonstrate they could be useful in a future position.

  • You have a Network, use it! It may not be in the tech industry, but still may be interesting to work on because any company might need a junior web developer to develop their core business.

  • If you have projects to show, prepare the storytelling. Projects are not just projects, they are a demonstration of the person you are and an excellent occasion to shine in front of a recruiter.

  • Being a student might be an advantage. Companies might be more interested in having you as an intern, because of the lower cost. For you, it is an occasion to have a first experience, and maybe go on with the company after.

  • Use all the possibilities to make the companies know you. It is not necessary to wait for them to post a job offer on LinkedIn. Send an application letter right away, it is never a waste of time.

  • But stay careful about the job's work environment, the possibility for you to get mentored, and your ability to learn and progress during this first experience.

I hope you enjoyed this article. My name is Paul, and I am a Front-End Software Engineer. For more articles like that, you can follow me on Twitter.

See you next time!