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Your first developer job hunt: it sucks and you’re not alone. — Part 2

Part 2 — It’s only logical. Job hunting is an anxiety filled experience. We’ll see how rationalizing the hiring process can get you closer to that developer title on your resume.

In the first part we covered the complicated feelings and situations you might find when looking for your first job as a developer. On the second and final part I gathered tips and insights that can help you not only deal with these feelings, but also improve your chances of getting your first job in the field.

Hiring: unicorns

You’ve heard that a company you find really interesting is hiring. Sweet! As you start reading the job description your enthusiasm goes down the drain. That’s a huge list of things you’re not. Maybe you match some of the requirements, but how can you compete with other candidates if they’re that much more qualified? I have good news: they’re probably not! If you’re under the impression that they’re describing some sort of coding demigod, it’s because they actually are. Job postings are nothing but wish lists of a made up perfect candidate that might not even exist. Or they are already happily employed at iUnicorns. When applying for positions highlight the skills that you have, and let them know how you‘re going to acquire some of the skills that are still missing. If you have work experience in other fields mention how you will transfer the skills you’ve gained in your other jobs. Companies hire for potential, especially for junior positions. You might not be quite there for that position, but if they see you’re in the right path to become their perfect unicorn they might give you a chance.

Be honest

By now you’re probably aware of what you know and what you don’t know, and if you’re not, you should. Some might try to fake how knowledgeable they are about a certain subject during a job interview. That’s a terrible idea. If you get caught, it’s really shameful and might cost you that opportunity, and if you don’t you can’t fool them for a long time. Even if by a miracle you fake your way through and get hired they’ll expect you to actually do that job. Remember: getting the job is only the first step! A means to and end, not the ultimate goal. Having a career is the real game, and you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot. So be honest, it’s good for everyone. Don’t act like you know or should know everything.

Arm yourself with facts

People underestimate portfolios and fail to realize that their projects are the most objective way to showcase their skills. As I said in Part 1, your portfolio is a reflection of where you’re at this moment and you should use it to backup what you stated in your application. Anyone can say that they know a language or framework, but can they show it? Even a simple project can work in your favor, if it’s a good, finished product. If you have more complex ongoing projects, show them the victories you already achieved, and what are your next challenges. When talking about your projects, go full technical. Don’t say you chose that project because it’s “cool”, “pretty”, or “fun”, talk about what language and libraries you used, and how you solved the problems you faced when coding it. Show them what you can build by yourself, and you’ll be showing them that with guidance and experience you’ll be able to do much more.

They need you as much as you need them

When a company has a position to be filled it also means that they have a problem to be solved. It doesn’t matter the reason for the opening, whether if it’s because somebody left the company, got promoted, or they’re expanding the team. While no one is there to do that job they’re losing money. Hiring is also costly for the company, as they have to pay for things like talent acquisition fees, as well as accounting for the time that their employees are accessing candidates instead of doing their primarily job. As soon as they fill that position with a good fit, the better. Companies don’t post positions to turn people down. So try to remember that a hiring company is not doing you any favor, they actually need you as much as you need them.

They want you to succeed in the interview

We all know that job hunting is a stressful situation, but also an unbalanced power dynamic. Well, maybe not. I was really surprised when most of the developers I talked with — some of them being responsible for interviewing candidates in their company — said that that’s probably in our head. Yes, some interviewers might like the power trip side of it, but if they’re doing their job, which is finding a good candidate for that position, it’s beneficial for everyone that you succeed. They contacted you because they think you’re a good fit. No one has time or disposition to interview candidates that don’t stand a chance.

Be real

If you’re nervous, tell them. Ask for a few seconds to think of an answer, but tell them what you’re thinking. If you don’t know something, don’t pretend to know all about it. Share the extent of your knowledge, or give your best guess. Correct yourself when you notice a mistake, even when you think it’s too late. It not only normal to do all those things, but expected. If you don’t it might be misinterpreted as arrogance or sheer ignorance. During a technical interview you should ask questions. Try to see it as if you’re all part of a team solving a problem, because that’s one of the things they’re evaluating: how you work with others. But expect guidance instead of answers, as they’re also accessing the depth of your technical knowledge. Talking about your thinking process is more important than knowing the answer. Developers don’t always have the right answer to a problem on the first try, what matters is showing that you can come close to an answer and mainly how you get there. Also, take home challenges are not built for you to finish everything, but to see how far can you go. Plan your challenge with a MVP and stretch goals, and if you finish everything, way to go!

Know what you want

In a field that really values culture fit you should also be worried if the company fits you. The interview is a two way thing, you need to evaluate the company and the team the same way as they’ll be checking you. They want you to be happy there, it’s better for them too. You’re going to dedicate a good part of your day working, that’s why it’s really important to know what you want in a job and if you really like the company. How do you feel during interactions you have with their employees? What about their office? If you feel something is off, it probably is. Trust your gut. But you should also trust facts, which takes us to the next topic.

Don’t buy a book by its cover

Some companies do an excellent job on how they sell themselves online, but in reality can be very distant from that image. So do your research. There are several sites with employee reviews. What kind of media attention are they getting? How about the way the company and their employees behave online? Is it mostly positive or negative? If possible, contact former employees. During an interview you should ask a lot of questions about the company and how it’s working there. Some good examples are: What would you change about your work? What you don’t like about your job? What sort of challenges the team is facing at the moment? What kind of mentorship is available? How is your team structured? How diverse it is? Analyze not only their answers, but how they answer it. Once my interviewer refused to answer some pretty generic questions, and seemed very upset about it. It raised a very bright red flag for me. On a later occasion I got to know someone that quit that same company and told me it was a terrible place to work at. Know the place and the people you’re going to work with before accepting an offer. Unless you’re in a situation that requires that sort of decision, don’t jump the gun and accept an offer from a company you don’t feel confident about, just because it’s the first one. Accepting a job that you’ll end up hating it’s harmful for everyone.

Be mindful of other people’s time

It’s OK to drop out of a hiring process at anytime if you don’t like the company or the job. The sooner the better, for everyone. Thank them for the opportunity and their time. And if you don’t get an offer, keep in mind that…

“No” is different than “never”

Being rejected by a company might mean a lot of different things. It can mean that they found a better qualified candidate, or that you were not a fit for their culture. But what it doesn’t mean is that you’re not worthy of a job. You might not be as qualified yet, but you’re improving every day and will get there eventually. You might not be a fit for their culture, but you’ll find a better fit for yourself. If you didn’t got that job at your dream company, there’s always time and opportunity to become their unicorn. It’s not a never, it’s a not right now.

Most things in life are a matter of attitude

Everybody says that your first developer job will be the hardest one to get, and it’s very tempting to give up sometimes. The tech industry is known for the nerve-wracking hiring process and egotistical interviewers that make you feel vulnerable. We have a long way to go before it gets better, but when your time to be a senior hiring a junior comes, remember how it felt to be in that person’s shoes. Be a part of the solution and don’t perpetuate the problem. For now we have to play their game, but with a change of attitude we can bend their rules in our favor. To wrap thing up I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” — Maya Angelou

I hope this blog post helped you rethink the way you see the hiring process, and that it looks a little less scary and unachievable. With effort, patience, and a little change of attitude, you’ll be closer to your first developer position. Now go get that job!

Top comments (2)

vladimir_dev profile image

Good points!

tsimpson profile image
Travis Simpson

Thank you for these articles. Very uplifting while in the search. Certain career choices set me back quite a ways and I'm making up lost time, so it's been a struggle. This was inspiring!