Without question, one of the hardest parts of my career so far has been getting hired as a junior developer with little to no experience.
From the perspective of a hiring manager or company (and I think it is important to have this context), junior developers are a worthwhile investment but similarly potentially a risk as they don't have a wealth of experience and need more time invested into their growth. Put bluntly, it's much easier to hire junior developers because there are more of them on the job market. However, for people starting their career in software it makes getting your foot in the door all that more competitive unfortunately.
Here are some themes I think are worthwhile investing some time in as a new developer to help your chances of getting those first interviews and your foot in the door. Fortunately, when you have some experience to put on your CV, it does become much easier!
Building a strong network of people already in the industry is undeniably a sensible move when you are starting out because it opens you up to opportunities you might not have known about before. LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram - you can network on them all and each has its own unique benefits to offer. Most of my jobs have come from recruiters reaching out to me with opportunities on LinkedIn that I wouldn't have known about if I didn't already have these connections.
I suggest reaching out to people from companies on LinkedIn that you would potentially be interested in working for. Just a simple message like "Hi, I'm James - I'm looking to build my network of software developers and would love to connect!" is a nice way of adding something personal to a connection request.
Even if you don't get anything out of this in the short term, building meaningful connections with like-minded folk is never wasted effort.
Taking the time to blog, document and write about your coding experiences through Instagram, Dev.to, LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium or your own personal blog shows dedication and a genuine passion. Not to mention that people in a hiring position will likely try and look up an applicant and see what they have been working on online. We have all done it!
Companies are usually keen for all employees to take up a level of advocacy, whether it be posting about the companies latest news or contributing to blog posts. In this case, demonstrating you have the skills to create content based around development can be a big edge. Practicing writing and speaking now is only going to have benefits in the future when you have more opportunity to talk at conferences or feature on a companies blog.
Having a good set of social accounts may seem trivial, but will help you to stand out from the crowd and gives you the chance to share more details about yourself, your passions and your abilities indirectly.
Open Source Experience
Open Source experience doesn’t only demonstrate your ability to write code, it displays your ability to be able to work on a large codebase using standard Git practices such as issues, branching, pull requests and merging. Good, solid experience with Git workflows on a real project is a massive upper hand over folk that don’t have this experience and is definitely worth investing some time in prior to job hunting and then shouting about in the application process.
If you want to read about getting started in Open Source then I recommend you read my letter from a few weeks ago, where I dive much deeper into this topic!
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I'm coming from a different angle here, but something I see so many slip up on is honesty. Be true to yourself and others about where you are on your journey.
If you lie or try and big yourself up, people will see straight through it. Be honest about your experience, be honest about your current intellectual ability and be honest about where you want to go. If you try and make out you are more experienced than you are, it leaves you open to trip up in an interview situation and that will then spoil your chances.
You have to remember, it is a strength to embrace your weaknesses and learn from mistakes. I openly admit that there is a lot of stuff I don't understand, however, I don't try and kid myself otherwise. It is more than ok to say "I don't know". Having this mentality at this point is so so important, I cannot stress it enough.
People are too quick to dismiss their previous non-coding jobs as being helpful in an application process. These past jobs are often super useful as they have given you experience and skills that someone straight out of college/university won’t have picked up yet. Be proud of your past and use it to your advantage.
If you have worked in the supermarket, then you have a level of client-facing ability someone who hasn't interacted with clients. If you have worked manual labour jobs (I was a construction worker before I made the switch to dev) then you have a hard-work ethic. My first jobs are still something I display proudly on my CV.
How can you use the experience you have already had to make it relevant to the job you are going to be doing? This is your unique selling point and it is worth shouting about! Be proud of your past.