How to Be Realistic and Optimistic During Your First Job Hunt as a Developer
When observing the competitive job market and the influx of people on LinkedIn holding the title “software developer,” the idea of becoming a junior developer is intimidating. In addition, the idea of answering algorithm questions and participating in pair-programming interviews can feel overwhelming.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. While on the job hunt, it’s important to be realistic, but also optimistic.
I can relate to the brutal process of investing time and money to be a software developer and get nowhere. After college, I made the jump to pursue a career in software development with a degree unrelated to information technology. I attended a coding bootcamp while working as a software developer intern making little to no money just to gain experience.
After submitting over 300 job applications specific to software developing, I did not earn a single offer. It was not until I applied for a quality assurance analyst position at my current company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, that I officially began my career in information technology. I then sold my skills in software development to contribute more to my company, and within a year I became an automation engineer.
The goal of this guide is to offer encouragement and action if you are struggling to make a career in software development. Even if job hunting doesn’t pan out the way you expected, this guide will offer alternative solutions to use your software developer skills.
Staying Persistent in Your Software Development Journey
It was easy to begin your journey to be a software developer after feeling the fiery motivation in your heart. However, the hardest part of becoming a software developer is to stay persistent without much motivation in the job hunt. You likely experience a lot of imposter syndrome, rejection, and headaches as to why you have not received an offer yet.
No one mentioned becoming a professional software developer with a high or at least respectable income would happen overnight. There are no quick solutions to go from tutorial mode to hanging out in the big leagues. It is essential to stay the course!
How Long Does It Take to Be a Professional Software Developer?
The short answer is as long as it needs to take! There are no guarantees in life. Likewise, there is no straightforward path to becoming a software developer.
If you are stuck applying for jobs and not getting callbacks, you will need to assess your approach to job-hunting.
Lack of Professional Experience
Ah, the dreaded catch-22. Companies are looking for someone with professional experience, yet you need the job in order to get experience. The good news is that there are ways around the catch-22.
If you happen to work in a company that pushes for internal mobility, you can buffer this problem by seeking good recommendations that speak on behalf of your work ethic. Then you may schedule an informational interview with a recruiter or hiring manager for the department in which you want to use your software development skills.
From there, be transparent with the recruiter and hiring manager; tell them you have a fundamental knowledge of your tech stack and speak intellectually in the subject matter.
For example, if you worked on a web-scraping app you can discuss how you made your script flexible for updates to the HTML code of a website. Show that you understand scalability, accessibility, and performance in your tech stack.
Having a good recommendation within your company will give you a huge advantage over outside candidates.
If you want to move to a new company or are unemployed, then overcoming the lack of professional experience will be challenging. A good portfolio will help you demonstrate your work to recruiters and hiring managers.
I recommend looking into e-learning platforms with hands-on projects. Hands-on projects will help you tailor what skills hiring managers look for in candidates. For example, learning how to develop an e-commerce landing page will appeal more to hiring managers than creating a game of blackjack or hangman.
If you cannot come up with projects on your own, then freelancing for a friend or small business will give you experience along with a professional reference. The focus is to build a portfolio with projects relevant to what you will do on the job.
Regardless of your specific situation, demonstrating applicable knowledge of your tech stack will require more work than simply watching video tutorials and finishing over 100 problems on LeetCode.
Not Hearing Back from Recruiters
If you build a portfolio and apply to many jobs, then there is a good chance you will experience rejection. The common form of rejection in software development is not hearing back from recruiters.
Some people call this “ghosting,” however, I do not agree with that definition. “Ghosting” implies that recruiters do not care about you as a person; that is not true. Recruiters do care about you as an individual! However, a competitive job market leads to recruiters being bombarded with hundreds of applicants.
Recruiters are tasked to scout for candidates, reach out to a selected list of candidates, schedule interviews, and write job offers. All of this for a few positions and hundreds of applicants. So no, recruiters are not maliciously ignoring you, if that is what it feels like. Given the abundance of job boards and online applications, you are competing against a global market.
No need to fear, there are creative solutions to go about catching a recruiter’s attention!
The key takeaway to get recruiters to notice your existence is to make it easy for recruiters to spot you. This will require more effort than sending one message on LinkedIn to recruiters.
Below are some suggestions for having recruiters notice you:
- If you are already working at a company, have your HR representative reach out to a recruiter within your company for software developer positions.
- Join a recruitment agency that will make sure you are fairly compensated.
- Join Discord or Slack channels focused on your tech stack.
- Create a blog where you demonstrate what you learn.
- Follow up with recruiters you reached on LinkedIn and attach your resume.
- Consider joining nonprofits focused on increasing diversity hires for companies (see if this applies to you).
- If you attended a four-year college, ask to speak with a career counselor.
Dealing with Burnout
The best way to not be overwhelmed when job-hunting is to prevent burnout. You will need to assess your own energy. Time management is important; however, it is meaningless if you do not have the energy to fulfill your task. You will need to be self-aware of your energy management.
The concept of “hustling” may have applied when you began learning how to code. However, too much “hustling” will exacerbate the frustration you feel when you’re stuck in your job hunt.
To overcome burnout when it happens, I recommend practicing some form of meditation to develop mental toughness in the job hunt. Hardships are mentally and physically painful; however, they exist to help you become stronger. Therefore, once you earn the job offer, you will have become a more resilient individual than the person you were before the job hunt.
Create a Financial Buffer
Creating a financial buffer for yourself will reduce the feeling of desperation and make it less likely that you’ll apply to just any company and settle for less.
The lack of a financial buffer causes your mind to go from abundance to scarcity. When in the scarcity mindset, any software development position may sound appealing, no matter the pay. However, you run the risk of entering an environment that will compensate you for less than you’re worth.
I was personally in the scarcity mindset when I decided to do a software development internship for a small company. It was unpaid and offered purely for the experience. Do not make the same mistake I did! You deserve much more than doing free labor or working minimum wage for software development skills.
A financial buffer will allow you the time to step away from the stress of job-hunting to assess how to adjust your learning or job-hunting strategy. You may achieve a financial buffer by cutting down on your highest expenses. Often your highest expense will be rent, assuming you live in a highly populated city. If you have the option to move back home or invite a roommate without feeling overcrowded, I recommend that option.
If you find yourself out of luck even though you cut down expenses to their minimum, then you may consider getting a part-time job to help develop savings. Another idea to consider is freelancing for small companies that can compensate you for at least $25 an hour to develop your portfolio and earn a living.
Consider Opportunities Related to Software Development
I warned in the earlier section that there is no straightforward path to becoming a software developer. You could be doing all the suggestions I listed above for overcoming the catch-22 and reaching out to recruiters. Yet, you could still not earn a software developer position. This is one of the hard truths of life; you could do all the right steps and still miss the mark.
When to Pivot
I am not saying to give up software development if you haven’t heard back from 10 job openings or even 100. There is value, however, in knowing when to stop applying for software developer positions so you are not wasting time and money. I do not want to see anyone become homeless because they kept applying to jobs only to get rejected.
Take the following into consideration when assessing whether to apply for jobs related to software development or not:
- Have you done more than just apply to jobs online?
- How often are you following up with recruiters?
- Do you have enough finances to cover four to six months’ worth of expenses if you need to continue looking?
- How many positions are available in your location?
- Are you able to cover relocation costs if needed?
- Have you exhausted your professional network?
If, for example, you have exhausted your professional network and have frequently followed up with recruiters but continue to get no results, then pivoting is a good idea.
On the other hand, if you honestly assessed that you have not been active in your job hunt, then I recommend adapting your job-hunting strategy. Of course, you will need your financial buffer to cover living expenses as mentioned earlier.
Jobs That Can Lead to a Developer Position
A mistake I observe often in aspiring developers is that they focus solely on the “junior developer” position. Junior developer positions are more competitive than in previous decades and have more demands in the interview process.
If you invested months applying online and reaching out to recruiters but received a low return on investment, consider jobs that may lead to a developer position.
The following jobs are roles that are still in demand and have respectable pay. They are related to software development and offer opportunities to apply your software developer knowledge:
- Quality assurance specialist
- Business or process analyst
- Data analyst
- Desktop or Cloud support
- Hardware engineer
- Database administrator
- DevOps specialist
- IT consultant
- Software analyst
- System administrator
- Associate project manager
Each of the jobs listed above will benefit from software developer knowledge to help you stand out from other candidates.
Aim for a company that pushes for growth and internal mobility. For most of these roles, the interview process is less intimidating. For example, when interviewing for a DevOps role it is more likely you will be asked basic coding questions rather than algorithm questions.
It will be up to you to ask for a developer position after a year in the company. By then you should have a good reputation in the company and people to advocate on your behalf.
Do Not Let Rejection Get the Better of You in Your Job Hunt
I do not know what caused the influx of aspiring developers. It could be all the YouTubers who claim to make over six-figures from software development, the rise of bootcamps, or the increase of computer science majors. Regardless, it is encouraging to see a profession in demand, where even someone without a college degree can earn a good living.
Do not let YouTube videos or Reddit threads titled “Is Software Development Saturated?” discourage you from becoming a software developer. Nowadays there are more resources to tailor your technical skills to match a job description compared to a computer science degree.
You can even connect with senior engineers and developers who are passionate about helping aspiring developers get into software development.
No matter the difficulty of your job hunt, there is always something in your control. You can control the amount of recruiters and hiring managers you reach out to. You can control the amount of focus you give to tailoring your resume, cover letter, and portfolio. No one can take away your persistence and your confidence to keep your head high. Do not settle for less because of a title.
Best of luck to you all in your journey. If you stay the course, you will add value to any company you work for!