Building bridges: A web developers guide to job hunting

No matter what your profession, job hunting is a pain in the butt. It is a time of transition and instability, which means stress! From my experience, looking for a job in the tech industry is less about hunting and more about building; Building both relationships in the tech community and yourself as a developer. If you are currently looking for a job in this industry I challenge you to approach your search as an act of building your career, rather than hunting down a job.

Remodel your resume

I could probably author a book about resume writing. It is an art, and because of this you will hear many different opinions. For now, I’ll speak to my most recent experience as a junior front end web developer, and perhaps elaborate at a later date.

I hadn’t changed my resume for several years before launching into web development. I was procrastinating. A lot. Why is it so hard to write about yourself? After speaking with a few senior developers in hiring positions and HR personnel at tech agencies, I had collected good advice and got down to it.

  • Put your most relevant experience first. For me, this was my education.
  • Make your skill-set clear by listing your abilities. Organize your skills into categories like “Great at” and “Worked with” so anyone can see your skill-set at a glance. As a junior Dev, you’re not expected to be “Great at” everything and your “Worked with” section shows you’re willing to learn.
  • Make your resume in HTML to show off your chops. Here is my HTML resume. If you need some inspiration google around for some examples. You can also buy templates, but I’d advise against this – don’t you want to WOW your prospective employer? Also make a PDF for easy emailing.

Write your resume with the intention of adding to it in the future by having clear sections. Maybe you’ll get some cool volunteer experience or take a course. If you are struggling with your resume structure there are lots of great resources online or at your local library. Have a look for resume clinics in your area, too.

Cultivate your cover letter

Like resume writing, building a cover letter is a fine art too. This is where you should let your great personality shine. Fit is so important in the tech industry, so show how you’d fit in. Most of my applications were done via email, so my cover letter was the email message I sent along with my attached PDF resume. The first step of any cover letter is to do research on the company. Have a look at their “about” section and some of the work they do. Find something that make you want to work for the company and why you’d be a good fit.  This will be your intro.

Let the information they’ve provided be the starting point of your letter. It shows the employer that you’ve taken the time to research their company and are genuinely interested in what they do. Do a bit of digging to find out who to address your letter to. Give the company a call if you have to.

Beyond the intro, I have two types of cover letters. The first is a response to a job advertisement. Use the listed job requirements to structure what to say about yourself. What languages and technologies do they list (HTML, JavaScript etc)? What personality traits do they value (self-starter, team player etc)? Pretend you’re having a conversation and simply answer the requirements. The advertisement will also give your letter a tone. Many tech companies have fun and casual ads, so feel free to match the lighthearted tone. If the ad is more formal in tone, save the jokes.

The second type of letter is a template I use when I’m contacting a company out of the blue. They don’t have a job posting but maybe they’re passively looking! Again, I start out this letter with what I’ve gleaned from their website and then move into a synopsis of what I’m best at, and what I’m looking for in my next job.

Keep the letter brief – a few paragraphs at the most. Link to your online portfolio and invite the reader to visit it. If possible, have a friend read over your letter. A second set of eyes can be great for catching typos and awkward wording. Most importantly, have fun with it. The cover letter is where you can express how awesome you are and what a great fit you’d be for their team.

Strengthen your search

In my search I’ve employed three different strategies while looking for a job. I’ve looked for job advertisements, contacted companies out of the blue and gotten introductions through my network.

I have to say, my favourite place to look for job advertisements is LinkedIn. Normally, the ads are posted by the actual company, rather than a recruiting agency. The hiring manager is often listed as the poster, so you know who to address your cover letter to and who to follow up with. I search for terms like “web developer” and “front-end developer” with pretty good results. Other job boards like Glassdoor and Indeed are pretty good, but many of the postings are recruiting agencies that don’t list the company name in their ads. It’s always nice to know what your applying for.

Contacting companies out of the blue can sound intimidating. It never hurts to send off an email to someone on a dev team or in HR inquiring about the work they do. Even if it doesn’t lead directly to employment, you are building your network and putting yourself on their radar. Make their work that much easier by letting the company know you’re interested in them.

I can’t stress how important your network is when looking for a job. Opportunities sprout up where you least expect them so don’t hesitate to advertise to your circles that you are looking for employment. Heck, you might even meet someone at the dog park (true story!). Like I’ve said, fit is a huge part of the hiring process – you have to be able to get along in a highly collaborative environment. Having a mutual connection who vouches for you can be your ticket into an interview.

Forge professional friendships

 “What sources do you use to stay up to date on technologies”

I was asked this question in an interview and I froze. So much of what I know I’ve learned from my colleagues. Either via twitter, blog posts or, most importantly, meetups. When I explained this to the team interviewing me they were all very pleased.

I’ve touched on how important your network can be for connecting you to job opportunities. Beyond this, socializing with other devs provides you intangible things like news and gossip, or a quick fix for that malfunctioning nav. Going to meetups is a great way to build your network and gain more knowledge. And who knows, you might even get a job out of it.

Similarly, treat all of your interviews as an opportunity to gain contacts and make yourself known. Heck, you’ve made it this far in the hiring process, so they must see something in you. I wont go into what questions to prepare for or what languages to brush up on because each company is different. Be yourself to show you’re a good fit on a team. This strategy has been successful for me in both formal interviews with several stages and relaxed conversations over coffee. And don’t forget to send a thank you email to follow up the next day.

Build, don’t burn your bridges

It’s easy to get frustrated and tired while job searching. Companies may never get back to you. Or maybe that agency offered someone else the job.  It can take weeks for decisions to be made due to internal scheduling. It is easy to get into a negative mind frame if you’ve been rejected or seemingly ignored, but don’t burn your bridges. Job searching is a draining and stressful time for anyone, so go easy on yourself. Approach each opportunity positively and open minded – as a junior dev you aren’t expected to know everything. In fact, junior devs are valued for an ability to learn and willingness to try new things. You never know what opportunities could be right around the corner.

Do you have anything to add from your own experience? Throw it in a comment below and keep building!

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This post was written by Vanessa Merritt

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