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Leo Yockey

How to Get Interviews As a Self-Taught (or Bootcamp) Developer

Posted career, advice

via BlackIllustrations.com

The worst thing about becoming a professional developer is exactly that: becoming a professional developer. The first job is the hardest to get.

I, for one, had to do a lot of things just to stand out from the crowd. I followed a strict system that was instrumental in me getting interviews. This system was the application of advice from career counselors, friends, and helpful articles.

In this blog post, I'll explain the major components of that system. We'll be covering the following:

This Article's Definition of Self-Taught

I will be using “self-taught” as an umbrella term for any developers who do not have a college degree in Computer Science or related areas of study.

That includes bootcamp graduates, like me.

How to Get Interviews

There are many things within your control that can increase your chances of getting an interview.

Keep Track of Your Prospects

If you keep track of all of your job prospects from the beginning, it'll be much easier to ensure you're maximizing your chances with each application. Especially if you're job-hunting full-time—you could easily find yourself with 50+ companies to track!

Which job openings still need cover letters written? Which companies are waiting for you to return a take-home test?

Tracking everything in a spreadsheet makes it much easier to remember everything. Speaking of writing...

When In Doubt, Write it Out

If you have no one that you can practice interview questions with, consider writing them out essay-style.

Find and read a technical article (if you're a JS developer, my article on the Array reduce method is a good place to start). See if you can explain it in your own words, pretend someone with less experience than you is asking; how would you explain it to them so that they would be able to apply it in their next project?

If you write these often, maybe you can start your own blog!

Posting original content is one of the best way to improve your chances of getting a job. Plus, it can become an additional source of income!

Just be sure to be open to constructive criticism, if you’re discussing concepts that you haven’t understood for very long yourself.

As a self-taught developer, your own writing can be an opportunity to learn more!

Do All the LinkedIn Things

As a self-taught developer, your resume may seem less impressive than that of someone with a CS degree (and the internships that usually come with them).

LinkedIn can help fill that gap.

Here are some specific steps that can be taken to increase your LinkedIn engagement:

  • If you have anything to promote, it may be a good idea to cross-post it on LinkedIn for the extra engagement.
  • "Connect" with everyone you can.
    • The bigger your network, the easier it will be to find people.
  • Get your peers (personal friends, bootcamp classmates, etc) to “endorse” your skills, and return the favor for them.
    • Again, this is something you can do for free that will make you appear more hirable.
  • If you worked one-on-one with any mentors, or pair-programmed with a more senior dev on OSS, ask them to write a "testimonial" on your LinkedIn profile.

I applied all of this advice myself. All of them increased the amount of page views I received.

Have Your Elevator Pitch and Phone Interview Skills Ready

If you provide your phone number, some people will call you immediately.

Now you know and you won't be surprised the first time it happens, like I was...

Be sure to have your elevator pitch ready if you receive a call from an HR rep or other non-tech employee. Be prepared for a couple of phone interview quiz questions if the call comes from a tech-focused employee.

This phone call will probably be short compared to the actual interview, but it can be important nonetheless.

All of these steps are about improving the number of opportunities you get. It's your job to be ready when the opportunities arrive.

Remember, many hiring managers feel that self-taught developers have more to "prove" during the hiring process. Fumbling the initial call could keep you from getting the interview at all! Preparation is key.

Communication

For every application you send, you must communicate with a real person.

I found that this was the most important step. For the first couple of weeks, I didn't do this. I didn't want to disturb people.

That was a mistake.

Frustrated that I hadn't gotten any calls yet, I finally started sending emails to potential employers as soon as I had applied. That's when I learned something that shocked me:

LinkedIn sends you a notification when a company has viewed your application!

I received a notification that my application had been viewed about 10 minutes after I sent my first email! I had never gotten a notification like this before. This meant that none of the applications I'd sent in the prior two weeks had even been viewed.

This is where a big network comes in handy. The bigger your network, the easier it'll be to find a way to contact the company to which you just applied.

This is probably the most important of all the steps. For every application you send, you must communicate with a real person.

Schedule

The easiest way to stay accountable is to keep a schedule.

I created this Google Calendar as a template. It can be modified to reduced hours if you’re working full time, or adjusted to accommodate interviews and networking events.

It’s similar to the schedule that I still follow today, just replacing some of the job-hunting tasks with work. Let's go over some of the sections.

Self Care

First things first: personal health.

You'll notice that there are some self-care routines in the calendar. Keep them. Burnout can happen when you're looking for a job. Especially in a tough job market.

Being a self-taught developer comes with a lot of imposter syndrome. Don't let those feelings interfere with your health. You will thank yourself later, especially if you become a freelancer.

Note: Regarding the meditation/reading at the beginning of the day. I've found it helpful to start my day with meditation and some inspiring reading. You can replace the exact self-care tasks with something more suitable to you. Just make sure you do something.

Prospecting

This is where you'll do most of the job-hunting you've already been doing. Use this time to find new jobs to apply to and find points of contact within each company.

Social Media Engagement

Twitter and LinkedIn are great places for social media engagement as a dev. But consistency is important.

This engagement serves as a way of improving your network. Your network is your most valuable resource as a self-taught developer. These are the Real Human Beings that are going to support you in your career.

Note: Be sure to use LinkedIn at the very least. Use others at your own discretion.

Have you found other social media sites to be helpful for increasing your network? Tweet me @leovolving to let me know!

Apply/First Emails

This is separate from prospecting, where you find interesting jobs. Once you have a list of jobs you want to apply to, it's time to actually apply.

Use this time to submit applications, write cover letters, and communicate with someone from the company.

Follow Up Emails

The is the time to send thank you emails, requests for informational interviews, and other follow up emails to help build up your network.

Skill-Building

This time block is vague and open-ended on purpose. As a self-taught developer, you know your strengths and weaknesses, and what you need to do to improve your interview skills.

Skill-building activities include:

  • Programming books
  • Code challenge sites such as CodeWars
  • Mock interviews
  • White board practice
  • A new dev project

It's amazing how quickly skills can start to get rusty. Dedicating time to keeping your skills sharp is an important step in preparing for interviews, and the workplace beyond.

Conclusion

While looking for your first job, there are many other important things to consider, including:

  • Company selection - knowing where to apply
  • Resume tips that sell your skills
  • Best methods of contact with potential employers
  • How to work your network to your advantage
  • Warning signs of a toxic employer

All of these topics can (and probably will) be future blog posts. But I cannot overstate the importance of getting into a routine.

I used a version of this schedule consistently 4-5 days a week for 4 months. It resulted in about 300 applications, 20 phone interviews, 5-10 in-person (or video) interviews, and 1 offer.

These numbers are considered normal.

It is unclear if I would have ever gotten a job in the tech industry if I hadn't followed these steps. I got the 1 job offer from a company where I emailed the Talent Manager directly.

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Is this...hazing?

For an industry that supposedly has a talent shortage, it feels like I had to do a lot of showboating just to get an interview.

This was easy to do as a single, childless twenty-something. But what if I wasn't?

Did you have to go to great lengths to get your first tech job too? Is there a particular topic you'd like to see me write about first? Tweet me @leovolving and let me know!

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About the Author: Leo Yockey

Techie, Writer, and Speaker from Los Angeles. Advocate for underrepresented technologists. Hobbies include reading, PS4, and spending time with my girlfriend and cat. If you like what you see here, you may want to join me on Twitter.