Nailing the Interview for Your First Tech Job
26 Jan 2017
12 minute read
Set your priorities
- Do you want mentorship (inside the company you are working at)?
- Are you likely to get an offer (do they go for people like you, or are they intending to in the future)?
- Will you have the opportunity to develop your skills and knowledge (what’s the ratio of grunt work/creative thinking)?
- Do they have an established process?
- Is the job secure enough for your needs?
- Are you comfortable with working remotely at this stage in your career?
These will all help you determine which company is more suitable for you.
Know your targets
When you interview, you gotta know the company you’re interviewing inside out. They like that.
- What do they do? What are the problems and challenges they are currently facing?
- What’s a pivotal moment in their history?
- Can you name one thing you like and don’t like about their product/service?
- If it’s something that you’re a target market for, have you used it? Why/why not?
- What do you like about their approach to engineering?
- What kind of clients do they have? Big corporate? consumers?
- What is the company culture like?
- What kind of community work do they do?
- What’s their stack?
Keep track of your journey
It’s important to keep track of where you are in your job search. Build a spreadsheet to track it. You can find quite a few on the internet. Here’s an example of one.
- Who’s your contact? The more the better, even more so if they work with the developers or are ones themselves.
- What’s their contact information? How strong is your connection? Are they someone who would understand your work or do they simply work in your target company?
- Have you passed the phone screen?
- Name of company?
It focuses the mind to know exactly where you’re at, and see the type of companies you’re having more success with.
- Which ones did you stop at the phone screen or the interview, or even resume submission?
- Why? Are there any skills/knowledge gaps or do you freeze up at interview? These are things you can improve throughout your interview process, which is why it is suggested that you start interviewing with companies you don’t mind losing entry to for now, first.
- Can you improve it in time to interview with other companies like it?
And so on.
How to find them
There are three kinds: Referrals, Job Boards, and Recruiters.
Applications from boards for technical jobs are more likely to be taken seriously than those from general jobs boards, but referrals remain the most trusted source, because your referrer is making an expression of trust in your ability. As you can imagine, there’s a reputational risk to recommending duds. This means a warm introduction to a hiring manager or developer with hiring powers from a trusted person will generally get up an interview incredibly quickly, or put you on top of the pile. It will be much smoother if it’s for a position at their company. The better you get, the higher quality recommendations you’ll have. Also, reach out to friends working at tech companies and others that you’d like to work for, and ask if there are any vacancies or there will be soon.
The great thing about being a developer is you can work for almost any industry. Pick one you’d like to help succeed.
This is also where you put your online profile into play. Twitter and LinkedIn are public platforms where you can ask about these sorts of questions. There are plenty of career changers who have made the same move who you can talk to about how to approach the transition, and we have successful grads you can talk to. Don’t be afraid to ask other developers if there are positions on their team or in their company. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. They’ll also have great advice on what it takes as well.
How do I make connections?
- Decide who you want to meet to further your objective. People who work at agencies or for software companies in SAAS will often concentrate on different events at conferences, or go to different meet-ups. Refine accordingly. Also, go to the events senior developers go to. You’ll start to pick it up. Volunteer to help out at community events. There are always senior developers and recruiters there.
- Learn more about the person you want to connect with.
- Find what you can do to help that person in an area where they care. Did you solve a problem that they’ve been working on recently? You could discuss your approach with them.
- Develop a strategy to meet briefly face to face.
- Share what you want to do to help when you meet.
- Stay in touch with more ways to help. Remember that connections work double opt-in! Ask both sides before you connect, and you’ll get better reception and they’ll have a stronger partnership. The law of reciprocation works here.
The cover letter
You’re a career changer, so a unique cover letter will be more useful than usual. It’s got to include three things.
- Your transferable skills. What skills have you transferred over, and do you have any evidence of this in the new work you’ve done so far?
- Your superior performance in previous work. This indicates you have a track record of success.
- Your passion for the company. Why, of all places, do you want to work there? What sets them apart?
Ask a few senior developers to review your resume, preferably in the stream of programming you want to enter. Thinking of front-end? Talk to front-end developers, and so on. Your resume shouldn’t be any more than two pages long, preferably one, but don’t try and squish. Indicate the skills that will transfer over.
For career changers, objectives will actually make sense on your resume, because you’d want to explain why you’re switching and why your previous experience makes you a good fit. However, it would be better to include it in your cover letter.
Focus on your unique achievements, these are the things you initiated, architected, or built that had a lasting impact on the companies you worked for. You’ll want to concentrate on grunt-work you did effectively that exceeded expectations possibly more than the leadership, management, and coordination work. It really depends on the company.
Don’t include stuff you don’t actually know!
It’s basic, it’s simple, but it’s often neglected. Your spelling. No typos here, thank you very much.
Make it visually friendly , but not OTT — and compatible with your future line of work. We can promise that it’s not naff. The most important thing is that the important information should be easy to see.
Include the projects you’ve worked on. Make sure that if you are including projects that are often the subject of tutorials, you have significantly improved and/or added onto it. A simple to-do list with standard features usually won’t impress a recruiter, or the developers you’re interviewing with.
List those projects in terms of relevancy to the job you want.
For these projects — list the tech stack, show some screenshots, note how long it look (this can be proven with git), link a demo video.
List the projects you’ve significantly contributed to. They could be open source, or maybe you did some pro-bono work for a non-profit, created a website or online artefact for friends and family. List them.
Link to your Stack Overflow (if you have one), your Github or your Bitbucket (you should have one), and your JSFiddle/CodePen samples (if you have them). Maybe you have some design work on Figma or Dribbble.
Do you have an interesting workflow? Put down the details.
Try and include anything which makes you interesting in a professional context, basically.
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