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5 Tips On Landing Your First Developer Job

emmabostian profile image Emma Bostian ✨ Originally published at compiled.blog ・6 min read

This week, Honeypot.io published a short video where I gave “5 Tips For Junior Developers | How To Break Into The Industry.

One of the first comments that appeared said “‘How to break into the industry’ should be about how to get that job at IBM, and not what you did after you got it. Or am I missing something?”

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After a bit of reflection, I realized that Stefan was completely right! I had skipped over a vital time in the developer’s journey: how to land your first developer job.

Today I want to address this gap and give you five tips on landing your first developer job.

I want to preface this post with the caveat that I was very privileged in my job search. I completed an internship at IBM and from there was offered a role internally at IBM. I did not have to apply for a multitude of jobs to land my first developer job.

Prior to landing a job with LogMeIn (my second role) and subsequently at Spotify, I applied for as many jobs as I possibly could. I did not hear back from nine-out-of-ten companies that I applied for and I struggled to determine why. I had landed my first job without much effort, why was I having so much trouble landing a second job?

The following tips have come out of my struggle to land a role and I hope they help any developer out there struggling to find their first or second role.

Have A Unique & Complete Resume

Let’s be honest: landing a job interview is difficult in-and-of-itself. We always discuss how anxiety-inducing the technical interview process is but we don’t often discuss how difficult it is to even get an interview in the first place.

When applying for your first role it can be intimidating to know which roles to apply for. Do you apply for a junior developer role? Do you apply for an entry-level developer role? Often the job requirements don’t perfectly align with what you deem your skillset to be, so you have two options: apply only to roles which you feel tightly align with your skillset or apply to all roles you think you generally fit into.

Regardless of which option you choose one thing is certain: you must have a stand-out resume to get noticed. Recruiters see hundreds of resumes and only spend about 7.4 seconds on average reviewing resumes.

A few tips for having a notable resume include:

  • Use a fun resume design to stand out from the other candidates
  • Prioritize the most important information at the top
  • List your contact information at the top
  • Don’t include a photo
  • List what direct impact you had on the success of a project in your work experience bullet points
  • Include quantitative data points to back up your work experience “so what” statements
  • I won’t be diving into the nuances for creating a technical resume, but I did create a full course with LinkedIn Learning that you can check out for more details!

Here’s what my resume looks like! Remember, we’re in a creative industry so you have a bit of freedom when designing your resume!

Resume

Demonstrate Your Willingness To Learn New Skills

When companies are looking to hire an entry-level developer they want someone who is motivated to learn. As a developer, we’re expected to stay up-to-date and learn continuously, thus it’s imperative to highlight your willingness to learn during the interview process.

If you have the time and ability to take a few online courses I highly recommend it. FreeCodeCamp, LinkedIn Learning, and Coursera are a few online learning platforms that offer certificates upon completing a course. You can add these to your resume and your LinkedIn profile.

Additionally, if you’re asked in an interview if you have experience with X technology, you can state “I haven’t worked with X before but I would be eager to learn it!” This shows that you’re excited to grow as a developer and from the company’s perspective this translates into a candidate who will be a great investment.

Avoid The Ego Trap

Straight out of college I had the biggest ego you can probably imagine (especially with an IBM internship behind me). “I deserve a great job and I won’t have any trouble getting an offer.”

There is a massive difference between having confidence and having an ego. I had a massive ego and it hindered my growth as a developer (and a human) for several years. I’ve seen many new developers also fall into the ego trap. The longer you work in the tech industry the more you realize how much there is to learn.

When hiring managers are making their decision they want to bring on a team member with humility. They want someone who is a team player and is not afraid to admit when they don’t know the answer to something.

Some of you reading this may not have fallen into the ego trap but I certainly did. Take some time to reflect on how you present yourself to interviewers but also how you view your own skillset. If you’re riding the border between confidence and ego it might be time to do some self-reflection. It will positively impact your success at landing your first developer job.

Demonstrate Your Skills With Projects

If you completed a college degree in software engineering or computer science you have an advantage over other applicants who did not complete a technical degree. If you completed a boot camp you likely have one or two projects that showcase your skills. But if you’re self-taught or are switching industries you likely don't have a large backlog of projects.

While it’s becoming more commonplace to hire candidates without formal education, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the privilege that comes with a relevant college degree. If you don’t have relevant formal education, I highly encourage you to have two or three coding projects on GitHub that showcase your work. It will be time-consuming but having these projects will increase your chances of landing your first job.

Learn How To Solve Complex Problems

Technical interviews are hard, it’s why I’m currently in the process of creating a full course on how to be successful in your technical interviews. A good technical interviewer will want to see how you approach complex problems, they won’t necessarily expect you to find the correct solution.

I never learned how to effectively solve problems and it put me at a massive deficit during technical interviews. A few tips for demonstrating good problem-solving skills during technical interviews include:

  • Clarify the question (they’re left with a few missing pieces to see if you can deduce them)
  • Write down the functional requirements (what are the things your solution absolutely must include)
  • List possible solutions as well as benefits & drawbacks
  • Speak your thoughts out loud
  • Admit when you don’t know something
  • Optimize your solution
  • Test your solution
  • Explain areas for improvement

I’m not an expert on how to solve problems so I encourage you to take time to learn how to solve complex problems. But by following the guidelines above you’ll improve your technical interviewing skills.


Landing your first developer role is exhausting and frightening. Keep in mind that everyone in the industry has gone through the same process. The reality of it is that it may take time to land a job interview and it will likely take you several tries to land a job offer.

I won’t tell you not to get discouraged: you will. Let yourself experience your emotions. Take a break from applying and interviewing and focus on your mental health, and come back to the process once you’re ready. You can do this.

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emmabostian profile

Emma Bostian ✨

@emmabostian

Software Engineer, bibliophile, & cat mom

Discussion

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Thank you for the post!!!!!
I've been on the hunt for way over a year now and my mood flip flops from I can do this to I don't know what I can do anymore - mental health is definitely one of the hardest parts of the job hunt. Doing projects (and working on other hobbies) has helped with it, it gives me something else to focus on which is nice

 

I'm really sorry, and I know this will be unpopular but I hire for a major and if I saw someone who is basically a React/Vue.Js front end developer with little experience calling themselves a "Software Engineer" I would move to the next resume in about 5 seconds. Rude and mean, yes, but true. Again, not trying to trash your post.

 

I have a degree in computer science/software engineer so I'm more than qualified to list Software Engineer on my resume. Not to mention that a Software Engineer is not an accredited profession like a doctor or lawyer. So really not sure why you feel the need to gatekeep but.

 

Then it's probably not a very good environment for a junior (or any) dev to apply to. If that's the first impression you give, chances are not very high that the second, third, or fiftieth will be much better... But this is a teachable moment for both sides of the equation.

Candidates, it's true that you need to be more specific/accurate with your terms. It is also true that a lot of the crap you put up with in the hiring process is a sign of the company's overall culture. The first impression they make is likely the best you'll see from them. Make note of every red flag, and think long and hard about whether or not the job is worth it.

Recruiters, hiring managers, tech leads, architects, CxOs, etc.: If you truly believe you're working at a super-amazeballs company, you'd damn well better be able to prove it in your words and actions. If you're making candidates jump through pointless hoops, being unforgiving of rookie mistakes, and generally treating them like crap this early on, why should they believe a word you say about your "awesome culture"/"great place to work"/[insert generic amazing thing every company says about itself]?

 

I was just reading about how many companies now only read resumes with automated systems, and that graphics lower your score on said systems. Of course, having resumes only read by an algorithm is a horrible, terrible, no good idea to begin with, but here we are. :(

 

ATS (applicant tracking systems) have gotten better, but a lot of them still choke on any formatting more complicated than headings, lists, links, and text styling (note that graphics and tables are not in my list, nor are headers and footers).

To keep my resume formatting as minimal as possible, I built the docx in pandoc, converted from a markdown source - then turned that into a template so I could change font family (to Arial, default is Times New Roman IIRC) colors, and sizes in the document styles section for subsequent builds. You don't need to do all of this, just remember to stick to the simple formatting above, and use document styles rather than individual tweaks whenever possible to keep the look consistent with minimal extra markup.

Note that I mentioned "choke" above. You're scoring lower because the ATS isn't even able to finish parsing your resume.

Also, if you're being submitted through a staffing agency, know that they're going to use their own header to strip away your contact information so the client can't contact you directly until they facilitate an interview (yes, they're that paranoid). That means not only will a lot of your design work go away, but the resulting Frankenresume will likely be a mangled mess. This is another case where a plain resume is best.

Not to take away from what @emmabostian said about standing out or her beautifully presented resume, it is a good idea to keep a more visually appealing version as well. Just save it for the (non staffing agency) humans in most cases.

 

Demonstrate Your Skills With Projects

Highly important! You want to put your learning to practice. Don't just make projects what a tutorial made, add your own mix to it. Add new feature, it may be small and easy but it's you who made it from scratch using your own knowledge and problem-solving skills!

Having your own project will definitely make you more confident in that tech domain and when asked by a recruiter. Good luck to anyone who's applying nowadays for a junior position, it's hard but it's achievable!

Thank you, Emma, for this article and that Honeypot video was also great, just watched it 💯

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Having a more unique CV definitely helped me get interviews when applying for my first job. Besides a more basic cover letter & CV, I also made a summary as a one-pager that had some fun css effects and very easily in one sentence at a time explained my skills and the type of work I was looking for.

I’m from time to time involved in the hiring/interviewing process these days and I’d much rather have that people send one short document/video/website that shows who they are (both personality wise + the work they do), instead of a 10-page PDF explaining every job they’ve ever had or every course they’ve taken.

 

Have A Unique & Complete Resume

The problem I find with this... is that I rarely get the original applicant's CV. The recruitment agency often copy the content into their own template, so it's branded to their agency.

I mean, absolutely complete it, and make it as unique as you can; but don't go overboard with the design as I may not see it.

 

ok i want your CV as a template :D

 

Really like the video on Honeypot.