I’ve been promising to recap my job search, so here it goes:
It’s no secret that I was not the strongest coder in my class. Several of the students came in with prior coding experience, and others came in with years of experience working in the tech field, or with degrees in Computer Science or Math.
I also had restrictions on the jobs that I could accept. With a family, I could not accept a job at a start-up that didn’t offer benefits or expected me to work 80 hours per week. I also couldn’t accept a low-paying job in order to get my foot in the door, since I already had a decent job and couldn’t afford to lose income.
For those reasons, I suspected that I might be one of the last to find work. I thought it might take 4-6 months to find a job that fit my needs.
The reality was quite the opposite of my expectations:
Within 1 month of graduation, I had interviewed with 4 companies, had an offer pending with 2 of them, and had received an excellent offer from the third–my ideal employer.
How did that happen?!!
It turns out that, just as in any other career path, the quality of your Job Hunting Skills is much more important than any other factor. Technical skills are important, but it all comes down to people.
Do the right people know who you are and what you do?
Long before I even started coding bootcamp, I began planting the seeds for a successful job search. Here are some of the steps I took that helped me get ahead:
Before Coding Bootcamp:
- Started telling everyone I knew that I was studying to become a software engineer. I didn’t restrict it to the people who understood what I was talking about. When I was talking to someone who didn’t know anything about programming, I explained it in very simple terms. i.e. “The language I work with is called Ruby, like the red jewel.” I got an amazing number of friend-of-a-friend leads this way.
- Updated my Linkedin profile with the skills I was learning (hint: Linkedin is not a good place to be humble.)
- Created a Twitter account and followed local tech companies, Codenewbies, Tech News, and programmers I met at meetups. Made sure to keep my own tweets mostly professional while still being my crazy self.
- Blogged regularly. Yes, this DOES help get your name out there and show potential employers who you are.
- Updated my resume and had it ready to go as soon as I was ready to apply
- Ordered business cards to have something tangible to give to anyone I met
- Chatted up the employees and owners of the startups in our building, asking them questions about their company, how they got started, what technologies their products are built on, etc. I DID NOT ask them about working for them–the conversation was about them, not me. I had brief conversations with 50+ people whom I met in the hall, in the stairwell or in the break room.
- I attended Meetups and tried to make personal connections. The key to making connections at an event is to take a risk and do something to stick out. It is uncomfortable and feels risky, but the point is to be remembered. Some of the strategic decisions I made: sitting at a different table than the other students so I would be remembered as an individual instead of part of a group, attending smaller meetings more than large ones, pairing with people I did not know instead of people I felt comfortable with during learning exercises, asking lots of questions in meetings.
- Had an “informational interview” with a friend of a friend who was a Ruby on Rails developer. I asked him a million questions like, “What is a Junior Developer expected to know?” and “What are the best resources to develop my skills?” and “What can I expect in an interview?” I DID NOT ask him for job leads. That would have been asking too much of someone I did not know.
- Volunteered for a Rails Girls event and gave a speech about my journey learning to code.
- Practiced Project Euler problems and the famous “FizzBuzz” problem, which are commonly used in interviews.
- By the time I graduated, I already had one interview lined up, which came from a recruiter I met at a Rails Girls meetup.
- A second interview came from directly emailing 2 recruiters from the same large company. I got a response from one, and then a few days later, a response from the other. I sent them a custom cover letter with my resume attached and a link to my portfolio. Read this article to see how I found their direct email addresses: http://life-longlearner.com/find-email-addresses/
- The third interview came from a friend-of-a-friend, who introduced me to one of his friends, who happened to be hiring. After the interview, he gave me a take-home coding challenge (a pull request on his company’s public Github account), which I completed. I was not able to solve the problem, but was able to demonstrate that I understood the problem and cared enough to try to solve it. I later learned that just taking the time to try to solve the problem is more than most people do, and they were impressed enough to want to hire me.
- The last interview (which turned into my current job) came directly from a friend-of-a-friend.
You might be sensing a pattern here. Most of my job leads came from networking. In fact, during my job search I only put in one online application and only sent about 5 emails. In contrast, I would say I talked to nearly 100 people about my career goals. Some were short, elevator conversations and others were hour-long conversations. Most of the conversations produced no fruit, but the ones that did produced GIGANTIC, SWEET JUICY MANGOS.
I’ll write another post soon about the details of the interviews, but feel free to post any questions you have as a comment.