I see so many folks out there trying to make their way into tech. They are often frustrated because they keep seeing “Entry-level with 2 years of experience” (yeah it's dumb and doesn't make sense), and it deters them from applying. Fortunately, there’s a great way to handle this and land that first tech job when you have no experience. This post shares what I experienced, and what I have seen others experience when trying to land that first job.
My eyes scanned the job board looking for something with programming. It was 2008 and I was brand new freshman at college. I had been getting into tech since high school where I started programming.
As I reached the last listing, I sighed. I qualified for literally none of the posted jobs. Even in college they still expect you to have X amount of experience for a tech job and I had no experience.
Luckily, I knew a friend of a friend who worked for the on campus IT department. I gave him my over-inflated resume and of course landed an interview! Connections, y’all!
Interviewer: Are you familiar with data structures?
Me: @_@ Huh?
They proceeded to explain what a data structure is.
Me: Oh yeah I know arrays! (If you aren’t familiar with data structures, arrays are barely even scratching the surface)
I didn’t get the job.
Instead, I ended up doing some fancy spreadsheets at the university library and some custodial work. It paid the bills at least.
Based on the coursework ahead of me, I was about 2 semesters away from landing any kind of programming job.
However, they kept my resume on file…
One semester after my dismal interview, I was called and invited for an interview in the same office as my first interview.
Me: Look this sounds great, but I’m afraid you’re wasting your time. I already interviewed and they said no.
Them: This is for a different job and they want to interview you.
Me: This will be a waste of time.
Them: Do you want to interview or not?
Pro tip: Don’t be like me. If you want the job, take the interview. Luckily the person on the phone was patient as I ultimately accepted the invitation.
The day of the interview approached like a death march. The last interview was still vivid and my nerves ate at me.
I planned on talking about my ‘A’ in my intro to computer science class to show it had potential.
The subject never came up and I was again bumbling through another excruciating interview.
After I had told them for the millionth time “I don’t know”, they asked a question I could finally address.
Interviewer: What projects have you worked on?
Me: Oh, I made this pong game. However, it doesn’t have any bricks that disappear. As a result, it just bounces off the walls and you get a point every time you catch it before it falls off the bottom of the screen. I even made it two player! One person uses the arrow keys and the other uses a, s, d, and w. Additionally, I also made a chat program, so I know about sockets and threading and stuff.
Interviewer: Do you have them? (I had a thumb drive on hand and the most brick-like laptop you had ever seen)
We continued talking about my projects for 15 minutes. I figured this was a consolation question so the interview wouldn’t be a total joke. They then asked me to step into the hall for a few minutes.
After 5 unbearable minutes, they brought me back in, “We want to give you the job”. My soon to be manager handed me a monstrous book, “You start in two weeks. Learn Linux”.
Sometime after I started, I asked them why they hired me. They said I was green, but that I showed potential with my personal projects and they wanted to take a chance on me (for the non-English speakers out there, calling someone “green” means that they are new).
When you have no experience for your desired job in tech, make your own. If you don’t have any ideas for a project then make a chat app, make pong, make the best looking calculator with HTML/CSS/JS that you can, make a personal portfolio webpage with your mini projects, get a certification, or whatever else comes to mind. You might not have a few years of tech experience in a professional setting, but you _ can _ demonstrate that you have experience for the job with projects.
What I’ve learned over the years is that tech recruiters often don’t require you to literally have X amount of experience even though the job requirement says you do. If they ask for 1 year of experience and you have none, list your personal projects toward the top of your resume. That way they can see that you can do something and that may just satisfy their requirement. That’s far more important than a job like my fancy spreadsheets I made at the university library or the custodial job I had before that.
Showing what you can do as soon as possible will help them see where you could fit on a team.
Think of the “X years of experience” requirement more like a band. 1 year of experience might be 0-2 depending on what you can demonstrate to the interviewer. 5 years of experience might really be 2-5 years of experiences. Etc.
Ultimately, potential employers are looking for a good fit. The job requirements are often just their ideal which either is in short supply, or non-existent. Bonus: hiring managers often assume you will have a ramp up period in which you may have to learn some of the skills need for the job while on the job.
After working tech jobs for over 10 years now, I have never had a job for which I met every requirement – that includes years of experience.
Don’t get me wrong, there are jobs and recruiters that are sticklers about their requirements, but my experience is that is not the general case. They know that they have to fight for the budding talent out there. There’s a lot you can do to prepare for that next gig and there’s a lot you can do to craft that resume so that they readily see the fabulous-ness you can bring to the table.
If you don’t have the experience, make your own and get that first tech job!