Illustration by Kika Fuenzalida
It’s no understatement that I was a nervous wreck during my programming bootcamp. Besides the pressure of learning an insane amount of new and quite challenging things each day, I was terrified to run out of savings to live off while searching for a job.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve done job interviews before. I’ve participated in seven step assessment programs, for that matter. But all in a field where I felt like I knew what I was doing and had spent most of my life working on. Not to say I was super confident applying for jobs in a field I had two university degrees and a dozen internships under my belt, but definitely a lot more secure compared to how I felt after a three months course.
Needless to say, I was super insecure. Imposter Syndrome probably doesn’t describe how much so. After I had shaken off my initial paralysation, I countered my fear with sheer quantity: I was determined to apply to all the jobs there were. I’m not saying, this is the right way - it was just my way. And I want to share a few things I learned during the process with you.
Before randomly applying to anything that roughly fits your qualifications, take a step back to reflect on what it is that you want from your next job. What are you looking for in the position, the company, the team? Do you want to work as a developer, or would you be genuinely open to other fields to get a first impression?
Especially in the beginning, I thought I should be lucky to have any job in the tech industry, and that I wasn’t entitled to be picky. That led me to sit in a couple of interviews with dodgy companies applying for odd positions. Left scrambling for words when asked what I liked most about this role.
Don’t listen to that voice inside your head. You are more than entitled to choose carefully where you want to work. What you want is one of the most important steps in this process. And trust me, any interview is going to be much more successful if you can honestly say, why you should get the job and what it is about the company that appeals to you.
I know you are probably thinking ‘I have only done this for such a short amount of time, there is still sooo much to learn - I can’t possibly offer anything to a company’ - but bear with me for a second.
Think about it like this: by completing a programming bootcamp, you have shown that you are able to learn a lot in a very short amount of time. And you are more than likely to continue on this steep curve. You are probably also highly motivated and offer a new perspective since you are still all ‘fresh’ in the tech industry. You might have (work) experience from a different field, which can prove valuable in your new workplace: teamwork or organizational skills are beneficial everywhere, having worked with clients before is always useful, etc. This doesn’t necessarily have to be from a previous job, it could be from your academic studies, a volunteer job or even a hobby. Think about what you are good at and how it will help you instead of focusing on what you still have to learn in the technical department. A diverse background is a great asset for any team.
How do you choose what positions or companies you apply to? Maybe you love working in a small team at a fast pace and fancy the start-up environment? Or your previous career was rooted in the beauty industry and you would like to build on that, just in a different position?
There are so many options to approach this, it’s worth having a look at the bigger picture. Once you figured out what could be interesting to you, you will see it in a variety of places: there are so many more opportunities to work than you think. They are just hard to find if you are not sure what to look for.
When I last applied for jobs, I was looking for a working environment that gave me stability and the opportunity to continue learning. So I started searching for employee references to see where people felt most at home. This already led me to a couple of options I had never thought about.
You could also go by industry and research companies related to fields you are interested in. Especially in business sectors which are not directly customer facing, we are often not aware how close these brands are to home.
If this is an option for you, you could of course also broaden your search to related positions: there are many jobs within the tech industry which require a lot of technical understanding but you don’t necessarily have to code yourself (e.g. product owner, agile coach, consultant etc.) - if your skills match a job on the periphery of tech, it might be worth testing the water and applying for positions like these as well.
I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot more secure if I feel like I have done everything I could to prepare. With programming interviews, this of course feels like a terrible piece of advice: the sheer number of resources to prepare seems endless. But how about preparing strategies rather than (or maybe in addition to) answers to your typical coding challenges.
Think about ways to approach a problem: How can you show that you are able to solve problems you don’t immediately know the answer to? Ask clarification questions to show your communication skills and explain how you would go about difficult tasks.
Of course, this can differ highly between different application processes, but my experience was that for Junior positions (the only kind I applied for), most recruiters don’t expect applicants to have all the answers. Highly technical questions might be a thing at some companies, I wasn’t ‘quizzed’ like that, however.
Also, be sure to prepare as many questions for the interviewer themselves. I often found that many of the questions I had noted down before, were already answered during the conversation, so when the interviewer asked me in the end: “Do you have any questions for us”, I was left with nothing and felt like I was not making a good impression. The more questions you collect beforehand, the less likely this is to happen to you ;)
This sounds cheesy and like a phrase to put on a postcard, but it’s true. The more confident you are in your abilities, the higher the chances of a successful interview. By successful, I don’t necessarily mean getting a job, because this depends on many different factors, but having a good, fruitful conversation. Always remember that while you of course want the job, they also want something from you. This is supposed to be a dialogue between equals. What you want and need is just as important as the requirements for the job. And even if you don’t get it, or you are too nervous to perform like you set out to, you will always learn something.
Good luck with your applications, I hope the insights from my application odyssey are helpful to you or at least show you that you are not alone in this :)