Hi, my name is Alex and I was looking for a Junior Engineer job in Berlin for 8 months.
64 interviews and 87 matches filtering my email with “unfortunately”
This article might be relevant to someone, who decides to change his job, want to get their salary in European currency, or just researches the complexities of looking for a job in Europe.
It's difficult to get a job as a Junior: companies willingly hire middles/seniors, junior positions are highly competitive, headcounts for junior developers are rare, vacancies can be in German, and there are also separate freelancers sites that mimic in-house work... ahhhhh!
Let’s figure it out!
When I started looking for a job, I was very afraid that employers would quickly realize that I am not a real developer and I learned English from computer games. The fear was paralyzing: it was difficult not to sabotage the test assignment, start preparing for the interview and come to the meeting.
It took about two months to recognize the problem. If I was getting discouraged, the attitude "if you can't do something, start to work it out and it will work" was helpful.
To make your search less time-consuming, explore my eBay employment experience. In each section, I will leave examples of CVs, cover letters, and other blanks. Use and rewrite them to suit yourself.
I rewrote my CV nine times and twice from white paper. Each iteration took at least a day: coming up with changes, not breaking the layout (in Europe everybody is in love with .docx and .pdf), and distributing the current version among my social networks.
- Predictable structure: header, generalized content, experience, keywords, additional.
- A minimum of creativity in the layout (imagine yourself a recruiter with 3 hundred responses per week).
- A maximum of two pages in length.
- Indicate links to projects, employers, social media, and pet projects.
- Didn't forget the keywords by which I will be found (conveniently put in a separate "technology" section).
- Relevant information first. I removed my irrelevant experience as a civil engineer from my CV but kept it on LinkedIn. I put my higher education diploma after courses in programming.
- Minimal unprofessional information about myself - the recruiter will say thank you.
- Official style. I had to remove emoji and an entire joke from my CV. 😞
Reasons for refactoring a CV:
- Job interview rejections at first steps.
- Acquaintances Seniors reviewed my CV (and test challenge). Collected in a table and added the most capacious feedback from unsuccessful interviews.
- Too inaccurate and blurry phrases like "optimizing page rendering", "attention to UX/UI", and "working with technical debt". Replaced with specifics or removed.
- If I liked the job, I reworked the CV to meet the matched requirements. Focused on the skills that were required. Pointed out the general features of their story and the product they were looking for a developer for.
The significance of the cover letter is still a mystery to me. But in a competition where there is a small horde of candidates competing against me, I prefer to stand out in all the ways that do not irritate the recruiter.
- Made the cover letter more personalized. Addressed a recruiter by name if specified, or addressed the team.
- Summarized the CV in a couple of short paragraphs. Preferably not copying the Summary from the body of the CV.
- Briefly described the motivation for working with the product I applied for.
- Offered to check the details in the CV. Social influencers told so and they know exactly how to sell.
- Verify your knowledge and experience with technology with the canonical frontend starter pack (I have 83% coverage).
- B1 level of English minimum.
It's more complicated than that. You can google "how to evaluate soft skills" and drown yourself in methods, or you can go to every interview they call for and ask for feedback.
- Greeting interview. This is a welcome part with a recruiter who wants to understand what you are looking for and what to offer you (sometimes the recruiter is subcontracted and has open positions in several companies at once).
- Technical interview. This could include reviewing homework challenges, solving problems online, or designing a design system. The latter has only happened once, and I failed miserably.
- Management interview. At this point, they are interested in how you used to work in a team, how tasks were distributed, what you did in conflict situations, and what your weaknesses are (it's cool to know them). Since almost the whole IT uses Agile, it is better to pass the answers at this stage through the prism of Agile methodology.
- Interview with the team. You're invited to chat with the team on free topics: we chatted about TypeScript and about the desktop set-up. A soul-check really.
This is the ideal process, which is followed primarily by large corporations hiring hundreds of people every year. Smaller market players come up with simplified options. For example, the founder of the company or your future team leader can act as a recruiter, but I have not encountered anything beyond these 4 steps.
The closer the offer got, the fewer new questions came up for me in the interview. Below are all the main questions and how often they are asked:
- Describe your process in the last team. - often
- Describe your ideal employer. - often
- How do you deal with stress at work? - often
- What technology do you use and why? - often
- What do you do if there is conflict in the team? - medium
- What are your strengths and weaknesses? - average
- If you need to learn new things, how do you do it? - average
- How do you measure the success of a new feature? - seldom
I made a short brief for myself the day before the interview. It contains:
- Company's mission and products
- Personal motivation
- Salary expectations (based on glassdoor)
- Questions about team/stack. It shows my involvement and leaves a pleasant aftertaste.
I filled in the same brief with new information after the interview. It helped me not to forget who I was talking to, as well as what salary I said before the next one (IT salaries in Germany).
Brief template with common motivation and questions (better to replace or add yours).
30 minutes before the interview I:
- Repeated drafts and the self-presentation to peek, but not to read.
- Prepared 3 browser tabs (for quick changing Alt[Cmd] + Shift + Tab): self-presentation, company brief, google meet room.
- Checked background (no mess, no glare, no people), camera, and microphone.
- Prepared a notepad and pen. The interlocutor may be annoyed by the sound of the keyboard, especially the mechanical one.
Sources of open positions (by relevance):
- Career pages of favorite companies.
- Hiring platforms (LinkedIn, Hired, or Glassdoor).
- Freelance platforms (Upwork, BeBee, Freelance, Toptal).
- "Weak connections" such as friends or colleagues.
- Referral links from LinkedIn strangers. I asked strangers who worked in the companies I was interested in and asked for referral links (2/3 of requests were rejected).
Do not waste your time and CV for Middle+ roles if you are not a Middle+.
"It might work!", thought I. "8 months and Junior offer", — reality says.
- Sign up for career newsletters from companies you are interested in and check the career pages of favorite companies every week (sometimes they have a subscription feature).
- Set up some search filters and sign up for daily updates on hiring platforms.
- Update your status on LinkedIn to "Open to new offers" and remind about yourself every couple of weeks that you are on the lookout.
Job is looking for you too.
The recruiter can find your profile himself. Format it in a way that they like.
- Specify the desired position.
- Describe in detail any relevant jobs.
- Upload a photo (look at profiles of other European developers to find out your level of propriety).
- Add cross-platform references that help recruiters imagine your personality.
cheatinternal tests to get the skill badges.
- Pin your pet projects (how?).
- Ceate a simple README to the whole profile (how?).
- Emphasize hard skills (only engineers will read here).
- Solve problems.
- Refer to your Leetcode account everywhere - the platform has become an important source of candidates.
- Include backlinks to your social networks at the end of your articles.
- Feel free to write articles, even if you are a Junior (as I am, but here we are). There's a lot to discuss at all career levels.
- Set your profile as private, if you have a too defiant lifestyle.
- After you've made the perfect CV, set up your social image, and even had a few interviews, it's time to start all over again.
"Insanity is doing the exact... same fucking thing... over and over again expecting... shit to change... That. Is. Crazy." - Vaas Montenegro
After about 7 rejections, I started asking companies to give me detailed feedback about the interviews or tests. I asked for detailed descriptions of my weaknesses and strengths.
Most of them politely replied: "Our requirements did not match your skills" - but some companies even scheduled an extra call to tell me point by point where I performed well and where I did not. This was extremely helpful!
Probably the most important and exciting part of the search: finding out what you don't know. The feedback helped me find out my strengths and weaknesses that I hadn't even thought about.
At each interview, I learned something new about technology, and corporate communication culture or noticed my gaps in knowledge/skills.
For example, at the beginning of the interviews, I didn't know how to methodically solve work conflicts, I hadn't heard about three-layer architecture, I didn't understand the principles of micro frontends, etc.
I also had to try Docker, CSS-in-JS, TS, Leetcode, algorithms (I was asked once, though), and solve problems where I made mistakes in the interviews.
- Don't write outside of office hours. Nobody will reply, and they will notice to themselves that you don't separate personal and work spaces.
- Keep your letters structured (very important).
- Collect your thoughts and questions into one letter. Email is not a messenger (even on LinkedIn, recruiters follow the structure of the email).
- Reread all texts and attachments before sending.
If you're worried, scared, confused, and can't figure it all out on your own - ask friends, colleagues, the community, or me for help. Many have been through the same thing and will gladly tell you how to overcome it. Often the mere feeling of not being alone in this struggle helps you find the strength to handle this.
You can do it 🍀
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