Yes, the job market for tech professionals is strong. But that doesn’t mean companies are rolling out the welcome mat to just anyone who’s spent a few hours in school banging away at code. Even those developers and programmers who have the technical chops may find their practical experience and business skills (or lack thereof) questioned by hiring managers who want new hires capable of doing pretty much anything an office requires.
So what does it take to land a new position when you’re still early in your career, before you’ve built up the network of friends and former colleagues through which most experienced tech workers find jobs? The answer, even in a low-unemployment economy, is a whole lot of footwork, as well as a little bit of luck. As your summer job hunt begins, here are some tips for landing the position you want.
Develop a Strategy
No matter what their career stage, many tech pros make a very simple mistake at the beginning of the job-hunting process: they start applying for jobs without taking the time to think about what kind of job they want.
This urge to plunge into the market is understandable, especially when you consider that most people want to land a job as soon as possible (we all have bills to pay). But taking a little time to figure out what you want out of a job, and your ideal employer, can save you a lot of hours and effort later.
Some data-minded tech pros handle the research portion of the job search by asking the following questions:
- Do you want to work for a large firm, or a small one?
- Do perks matter to you?
- Are you interested in the speed of a startup, or the stability of a larger firm?
- Are you willing to trade salary for equity?
- Are you looking for rapid advancement, or the chance to master a particular role or technology?
- Are you willing to relocate?
The answers to these questions will allow you to fine-target your search; some tech pros even keep spreadsheets that break out their preferences. Keep in mind, though, that even the jobs most suited to your skills and temperament won’t check off all these boxes; you’ll have to make compromises on some issues.
Customize Your Application
Once you’ve customized your job search, take the time to customize your cover letter and résumé to every position for which you apply. While this also takes a lot of hours and thought, customization always beats the “spray and pray” method of applying for jobs; hiring managers look at a lot of résumés throughout the day, and they know instantly when one is generic.
When building your résumé, do the following things:
- Delete any and all buzzwords (i.e., passionate, problem solver)
- Don’t pad your education or experience
- Focus on how your work achieved results
When customizing your cover letter, show how your background and skills can benefit the employer; too many people use that document to describe what the company can do for them, as opposed to the other way around.
And while ‘spray and pray’ is bad, so is applying to only one job at a time. Submitting multiple applications can help give your job-search some much-needed momentum, and curb the inevitable disappointment when you don’t get a callback from one employer. Maintaining a spreadsheet of where you’ve applied is a big help.
Polish Your Online Profiles
Before you begin your job hunt in earnest, take the time to review all of your public-facing social profiles—yes, even your Instagram—and ensure that everything’s professional. Delete any potentially embarrassing images and posts, and make sure that your profile photos show you in the best possible light; if you’re wearing a hat with beer cans attached, for example, you might want to consider subbing that out for a generic portrait.
If you’re a developer, make sure that your GitHub and other repository profiles are similarly up-to-date, and that your existing projects are as “clean” as possible. Taken in aggregate, your online presence should show that you’re passionate about technology, and that you’re an expert in your current skillset.
Also, be aware that your current employer may periodically review your social-media feeds; you don’t want to post messages such as, “Looking for a new job!” or, “I can’t wait to get out of here!” That is, unless you want a really uncomfortable chat with HR.
If a recruiter or employer reaches out to you through social media, try to take the conversation onto another channel, such as phone or email, as quickly and discretely as possible. You don’t want your job search out there for all to see, especially if you’re connected to current colleagues (or even your company) through your social-media profiles.
Practice Your Interviewing Skills
This is a big one: at some point in your job search, you’re going to find yourself sitting across the table from an HR staffer or hiring manager. And if that interview goes well, you could find yourself in a technical interview, which may require you to diagram some core concepts on that most high-tech of tools, the whiteboard.
Before the interview, take the time to research the company’s interview setup. You should also parse through the company’s Websites, blogs, and other materials in order to figure out all its lines of business; you never know when an interviewer will ask for your opinion of a new product or a certain division’s work.
For many tech pros, one of the hardest aspects of the interview process is explaining complex concepts, especially if the interviewer is not technically inclined. Before heading into the interview, sit down with your application materials and break out your most successful projects. On a separate piece of paper, diagram each project’s goals, resources, timeline, collaborators, and results. That top-level approach will help you boil down your work into a pithy, jargon-free explanation that will (hopefully) satisfy any job interviewer.
If you advance to a second or third interview round, and find yourself locked in conversation with a more technically inclined manager, you can (and should) get into more detail about your technical background. But for the initial stages, keep things simple.
And if you do find yourself in front of a whiteboard, don’t panic. Writing the question at the top of the board helps; so does talking through your work as you write. Even if you can’t solve the problem at hand, working through it as far as possible can still impress an interviewer with your critical-thinking skills.
Applying for a new job isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Keep in mind that rejection is part of the process; just because a company opts to hire another tech pro doesn’t mean that you’re unskilled or bad at what you do. With a bit of care and hard work, you can make this summer a memorable one for your career.