We may not like to admit it, but recruiters and resume screeners see candidates in “tiers.” When they review a resume, it’s not just about matching a Java programmer to a Java role, it’s also about questions like, “Is this candidate good enough? Is he or she likely to pass our interviews? Would he or she be a strong performer if hired?”
Note that these questions are not just about whether you possess knowledge of the right languages and technologies. In fact, sometimes that’s not even a significant factor.
You can debate all you’d like about whether recruiters should do this, but it’s barely debatable that they do. For example, an Amazon recruiter hiring for a team that works with C++ would probably prefer a Google engineer who’s been working with Java over a C++ programmer working for a small medical-device company. Although the latter candidate has the right knowledge, the former candidate is seen, rightly or wrongly, as being in the right tier.
Do the Right Thing(s)
So how do you quickly present yourself as being in a higher tier? It’s not about learning the right technologies — although that can help — it’s about doing the right things.
What are the right things? Projects. Yep, we’re going back to high school and college. You need to work on your extra-curricular coding activities.
Spend your next free weekend building an iPhone app, a Web app, or a desktop app. Exactly what you work on isn’t terribly important. It’s more critical that you show you’ve built a real, “meaty” project. A weekend or two is enough time to build something serious. This means that in just one or two months of work, you can have three or four major projects to show on your resume.
Projects demonstrate a passion for coding and an ability to go above and beyond. Even if your work experience doesn’t shine, your projects can. I’ve seen a number of candidates go from almost no interviews to countless interviews with just this simple change.
And, there’s an added benefit: diversification. If you have been pigeonholed as a Java programmer — or even as a tester — and want to shift into being a Ruby on Rails developer, projects are a great way to get that experience.