The Job Search Story

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.

During Bootcamp

  • 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.

After Bootcamp

  • 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.

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14 thoughts on “The Job Search Story

  1. Fantastic post, Julie. Very helpful. The realization that it’s more about your job-hunting skills versus technical skills was very informative. And makes a lot of sense.

    One question – how did you describe yourself in your discussions with the 100 or so people you spoke to? In other words, did you characterize yourself as a “newbie developer”? Or more like I’m “working to break into the tech scene?” I struggle sometimes with how to frame myself to new contacts when describing my job search for that elusive 1st junior developer job.

    Do you have an example of, maybe, your shorter “elevator pitch” speech? Did you find an effective way to confidently but realistically convey who you are and what you were looking for?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Chris!

      I took an iterative approach to developing my elevator speech. In other words, I had NO CLUE what to say the first time, and slowly turned into less of a blubbering idiot when someone asked what I do.

      I think the key is to focus on the person you’re talking about. What have you done or what are you doing that THEY care about?

      If you’re talking to a developer, they will care what languages you’re learning and what tools you’re using. If you’re talking to an HR person or a business owner, their eyes will gloss over if you talk about that. You’d be much better off talking about what inspired you to become a developer.

      Overall, people like to talk about themselves, so give a quick tidbit about yourself–something that is about you but relates to things they care about–and then talk more about them.

      People rarely remember the details of who you are and what you do. What they remember is how you make them feel, and if you make them feel important by asking about them and listening to them, they will remember you favorably.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that all makes sense and I agree. It’s a very powerful fact of life – people like to talk about themselves! I was just curious if you remember what you settled on for how you introduced yourself during your job search time. I’m ok with “breaking into the tech scene” for my elevator pitch but I’m still working on it. Finding the sweet-spot between “confident but not over-selling yourself” is the key I think, still working on it.

        Thanks again for the post.

        Like

  2. It was something like, “I’m a student at The Iron Yard, studying web development. My background is in banking management, but I love technology. I’ve been teaching myself to code for quite a while, but I just recently decided to take the plunge and switch to a career I’m truly passionate about.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Julie Torres: The Job Search Story | The Iron YardThe Iron Yard
  4. I’ve been in tech support for over 10 years. I am currently learning Python from Coursera. The Iron Yard sounds promising. Did you have to quit your job to attend the classes? Being the sole source of income for my family, this is not an option. Looking for evening coding classes here in Houston, TX. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for your highly informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ageel! I had to take a leave of absence from work. The workload is so heavy that I can’t see how it would be possible while working.

      Don’t get discouraged, though–there are plenty of good options even if you can’t drop everything to attend a full-time school.

      I’m planning on writing a post with tips for people who can’t do a full-time bootcamp, but in the meantime this is what I would suggest: FreeCodeCamp is absolutely ideal and FREE, but it focuses on front end. If you really want to focus on Rails, Tealeaf Academy is supposed to be great as well.

      Either one would give you the skills and the flexibility you need.

      Like

    • Ageel – FYI, I just started a newsletter today for people in our situation. I’m calling it “Learn Code On The Side”. It’s made to help people who are learning to code while holding down a family, full-time job, etc. I’m going thru a Bloc.io program using my free time on nights and wkds . It’s very challenging but I would definitely recommend it to others with limited time.

      If interested, you can check out the first issue here: http://eepurl.com/betD15 . I’d love to know what you think.

      Chris

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi John!

      I recommend following CodeNewbies and participating in their weekly chats. You’ll meet a lot of people there. Also, go to local in-person meet-ups and follow those people on Twitter and Linkedin. Some meet-ups are more newbie-friendly than others, so if you go to one and feel intimidated/out of place, you may have found a batch of jerks. Try a new one, even if they’re centered around a different programming language. Ultimately, interaction on social media is most effective when you’ve already met in-person, because people feel more substantial and trustworthy when you meet them face-to-face. The face-to-face connection can’t be replaced, and social media is just a supplement to that. Hope that helps! Good luck on your job search, and feel free to reach out with additional questions.

      Like

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