I graduated from a Software Development Bootcamp back in early 2018 and landed my first job as a (remote) Ruby Developer within a few months of graduating. My entire class of twenty had jobs within four months. There’s clearly a growing global demand for Developers, but as a result, it’s an increasingly competitive space.
There’s no doubt it’s difficult to land your first role, and even more difficult if you want to find a remote working role as a Junior.
I’ll update this post with actual metrics another time, but looking at my Google Calendar, I had around 40 interviews, including phone screens, and around 20 coding tests, before landing my first remote role.
In no particular order, here is what I learned along the way and what I feel contributed most towards landing me my first role.
Some employers prefer lots of detail in a résumé, but they are the exception. A single page résumé will give you a higher response rate.
Hiring managers with 100 or 1000 resumes to look through won’t spend a great deal of time looking at your resume, so first impressions will be made based off a quick glance. A resume is supposed to be a display of the highlights – enough into to pique an employers interest – not every single minute detail of your career (that’s what the interview and technical tests are for). It’s common advice that you should only be spilling on to 2 pages if you have 20+ years of experience.
If an employer needs more information on you – that’s what a cover letter, and the subsequent interview are for. I’ve only ever had one employer come back and ask me for further information about myself before proceeding to an interview, and that employer ended up hiring me. So, stick to a single page.
This isn’t mandatory, but I’ve settled on using a LaTeX formatted resume which gives me easier control of formatting margins etc, than fiddling around with MS Word. You can find some examples here – https://www.sharelatex.com/templates/cv-or-resume. My layout has plenty of whitespace between sections, bold text used where appropriate, and sections laid out in order of importance –
Keep the content relevant and only keep the best bits in there. If you’re 40 years old and applying for a Software Architect role – you probably shouldn’t have your high school grades on your resume, or the fact that you worked in a cardboard box factory as a teenager – having these things in there will absolutely harm your chances. Ensure you use spellcheck and/or grammarly.
Cover Letters should ideally be laid out in a professional letter format – i.e. the address of the company you’re applying to at the top, along with a date, and subject.
There are loads of good example cover letters out there online – use the internet! Find the most professional / impressive-sounding one you can find, and tailor it. Again, use spellcheck and/or grammarly. First impressions are everything.
I also put a digital, professional-looking version of my signature at the bottom of my cover letters, along with the company address at the top of the page like an actual letter. Making a template cover letter in Google Docs makes this easier, so you can create tailored versions more easily. Small details like having a signature on your cover letter matter when you’re against 100 other applicants – first impressions are all you have to get you to the next stage.
This is a numbers game. The more places you apply, the more chance you have of hearing back. Don’t be put off by “x years of experience” required along with a huge list of requirements – let them decide if you’re suitable or not.
Obviously, applying to many positions takes time. I would typically spend more time on the positions I really liked, and send something more generic and less tailored to the “run of the mill” jobs. Usually, you get points for making it look like you spent a while looking into the company and position, and explain why you would want to work there.
As a side note – I tended to skip applications that want me to register on their careers system like Taleo, and fill out all the details that are already included in my résumé. I didn’t think these were worth my time but, that’s just me. I really despise companies who use these application systems…
Following on from the “apply everywhere” mentality – take every interview you can get, especially if it’s just a phone screen or video call. No interview is a wasted experience.
The main reason I landed my first real job as a Mechanical Engineer, and second real job, as a Software Engineer, was because of the number of interviews I had prior to landing these positions. I got to know the typical, generic questions that were asked in interviews, along with the more technical questions that most commonly popped up. Practice makes perfect, and practice turned me into a polished and confident interviewee.
The above advice is, of course, useless if you’re not actively learning from your interviews. Remember and write down the questions that are asked, and the ones you couldn’t answer, and figure out good answers for next time. After enough times, your answers will become automatic.
Figure out what positions you’re targeting, whether that’s React, Ruby, Java or whatever other languages, and create something in said language. Ensure whatever you put on Github is in line with best industry practices. If you don’t know what these are – ask someone to review your code online. The main things that will earn you points are:-
Completing coding tests is extremely time-consuming. I’ve had a couple of tests where I was expected to work on them anywhere from 6 hours to a couple of days, which I find ridiculous (though that’s a rant for another day). If you’re creating anything that’s more than a few lines of code – you’ve put a good amount of effort into it, so why not use this for your portfolio?
Some things look better on a portfolio than others. For one of my coding tests, I was tasked with creating the following image in HTML and CSS:-
The other parts of the challenge:-
So, long story short – I finished the challenge above and changed it into something that resembled some sort of order logging system that I could see being used somewhere in the real world, then put it on my résumé. Most of the functionality going on in the background is the same:-
You’ll notice that once you’ve applied to enough positions, you begin to get a general understanding of what skills are most sought out. If you’re targeting Ruby roles for example, experience with RSpec is usually essential. For Front End roles – one of the main JS frameworks like React, Vue or Angular is often what is asked for.
Figure out what the most common skills are, home-in on learning them, and put examples of your work online.
On top of the above, learn the ins and outs of whatever language or framework you decide to learn. Focus on industry best practices like TDD and clean code (and know what clean code means).
Whether you’re currently employed or a recent graduate, it’s going to take some work to find a new job. You have to ensure you’re spending your time wisely. Don’t be tempted to make a huge list of tutorials and topics you’re going to get through in one sitting, but rather, focus on one thing at a time and complete it. One completed project looks better than three incomplete ones. If you’re getting lots of technical tests from job applications – pick and choose which ones you spend time on.
If you’re going through a dry spell with work, the best thing you can do is show that you’ve been keeping active, but keeping your Github commits consistent. Do tutorials, mini projects, whatever – just make it look like you’re trying to keep your skills sharp.
After I finished my Software Bootcamp, I was exhausted. If you need to, ensure you take time off away from your screen. The urge to stay at your laptop to try and be as productive as possible is strong, but there’s usually a point in the day/week where the returns for your efforts begin to diminish. Re-charge, unplug from electronics and ensure you take regular breaks to get outside.
This last one is a bit tricky. Most remote companies will filter you out if they don’t see evidence that you can work remotely. Working from home requires both self-discipline, and great communications skills – it’s not for everyone. You have to prove that it is for you.
In my previous line of work as a Mechanical Engineer, I worked a handful of trips away from the office which required me to work from a hotel for a few days at a time, and I also had some freelancing work which I did from home (one or two clients who needed a single page website, nothing big) – like most freelance work tends to be. Most Developers can claim to have created a website for a friend, family member, or freelance client – so play this up if you can, and draw on any sort of experience you can use to show you can be productive at home, otherwise you will just be an unknown quantity that companies will be gambling on.
If you’ve had projects in college, a bootcamp, or as part of an open source contribution – sell this from the angle of coordinating with other people, remotely. It might seem like a bit of a stretch to call this remote work, but it’s not, as long as you’re honest about it. Sometimes, you have to sell yourself a little.
If you need any additional help with landing your first role, I occasionally do résumé re-writing and general career/interview advice – feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.