Getting a job in the tech industry

24th June 2020
Jon Meyers profile pic
Jon Meyers @jonmeyers_io

So you have just finished a CS degree, bootcamp or are just not super engaged at your current role. Time for a new job! But how do you go about being noticed, standing out or getting the attention of your dream company?

This article will go through some techniques that I have found particularly helpful in my career. I am definitely not a career coach and have no experience as a recruiter, however, in obtaining my last few software development roles I have been able to select the companies I am passionate about working for, and have managed to engage 100% of the companies I have contacted. Okay, there is the lame sales pitch done.

Don’t apply for open roles

I know this seems counterintuative - the first places you look for jobs are job boards or LinkedIn, right? Wrong! Sure, these companies have vacancies, but they are publicly inviting people to compete for a small number, or potentially single role. This is a difficult game to win, especially if you’re on the lighter side of demonstrated work experience.

Additionally, these companies know that they have broadcasted their desire to employ someone, so the kinds of people who apply are potentially applying because they want/need any job, not necessarily because this job is their dream job! So you are already defending your reasons for applying for the role, rather than demonstrating how capable you are. Wouldn’t it be better if your very first engagement with the company could tick the box for convincing them that this is your dream job, and then you only need to convince them of your capability within the role?!

The best way to do this is to not apply for open roles. Shortlist - and I mean “short” - a few companies that you would really like to work for. For me and my first serious tech role, this was companies that would really help me learn and grow in my career, that had the “cool tech company” vibe from the outside. There are heaps of resources you can use to find places near you that match your preferences - GlassDoor, LinkedIn, Reddit etc.

I found it particularly helpful looking at companies that host or sponsor local meetups and conferences, and talking to the speakers about where they work. Chances are if they are putting together interesting talks and mention the companies they work for, they probably have some kind of support from their companies to do these things they are passionate about, and that sounds like the kind of company I want to work for! I live in Melbourne, Australia so my list was Envato, Culture Amp, REA Group and Zendesk.

Great, now I have a shortlist but who do I contact and what do I say to them? I need to get their attention but I don’t want to waste their time with my work/education history in black text on a white background! What can I offer that people actually want?

The importance of coffee and beer

Most people like coffee or beer! And throughout the work day, most people would really rather be drinking coffee or beer - depending on what time it is! Why not ask someone from the company if they have time for a coffee during the day or a quick beer after work? Getting someone to sit down with you and have an actual conversation is much more engaging than reading anything you sent them, or speaking with them on the phone. You actually have their attention.

It also feels a lot like the first stage of an interview to me - but one that you didn’t need to compete with others to get. This is focused one-on-one time where you can really tell your story, ask any questions you would like clarified and introduce them to your personality. Additionally, this demonstrates that you are self driven and motivated, and have a real interest in this company - getting you over that first hurdle, and into only needing to convince them of your capabilities, rather than your interest.

So who do you contact? How do you contact them?

This is probably the stand alone most important piece of advice from this whole article. If you only take away one thing to actually do, make it this!

Sign up for a free trial LinkedIn Premium account.

The second most important piece of advice is make sure you cancel it before the trial runs out as it is surprisingly expensive!

What a premium account gives you is the ability to privately message people outside your connections. Now to find the actual people. I think a good rule of thumb is to contact three people from each company - at least one of these people from a high up position in the recruitment team and one high up in tech. It’s important to mention the names of each of the other people you are contacting in your message so if they do discuss your message in the team it doesn’t just look like you blasted everyone at the company with a generic message.

Make sure it is something short and to the point, with an option for the person to palm you off to someone else is best. Something along the lines of:

Hi! My name is BLAH. I am really keen to work at NAME OF COMPANY, and wondered if you would have some time to catch up for coffee or beer after work sometime next week? I have also reached out to PERSON and OTHER PERSON, so please let me know if they - or someone else from your team - would be more appropriate! Thanks for your time and look forward to meeting with you soon!

I have had 100% success rate with this method. When I contacted all four companies I ended up having a coffee catchup and was given the opportunity to explain who I was and what I was after. In all four cases this gave me an advocate within the company who could push on my behalf. It also allowed me to skip the first level of interviews in most cases.

Make sure you prepare well for this catchup. This is your opportunity to show them how keen you are to work at this company and ask any questions that may improve your chances. Stalk them on LinkedIn/Twitter, understand their background and ask them good questions!

Maybe you don’t have a great deal of demonstrated work experience in the area of example projects to show your work. What is another way to get their attention?

Do something CRAZY!

Okay, not too crazy but you want to stand out! I know this sounds difficult but it doesn’t have to be a giant task. Think about something unique that you enjoy doing, that could help you stand out in this role. It could be as simple as bright colours on your resume, or recording a podcast about the things you have learnt about the company that make you want to work there.

When applying for my most recent role I wanted to work for a company that was very consumer and brand focused. I wanted to build beautiful things that would be appreciated, so I wanted to demonstrate this when getting their attention. I built a clone of their website - using their brand colours, fonts and similar language - but with the content talking about why they should hire me. It worked as an interactive job application, but it stands out much more than black text on a white background! It demonstrated my interest in their specific company and knowledge of their brand.

Okay, so this is a super time consuming activity, right? You can’t build 20 unique websites for companies you want to work for. Exactly! Don’t do that! Refer to the point in the “Don’t apply for open roles” section. You want to specifically target a small handful of companies that you are actually excited to work for. Ones where you can be your authentic self! You are way more likely to get someone’s attention building three properly targeted applications than sending out 100 text-based boring, same same, generic job applications. That’s probably why you have felt like this was such a hopeless endeavour in the past. You can’t stand out doing the same thing as everyone else!

Exaggerate the right things

Okay, you have their attention, now what do they want to hear? All companies and teams have specific things that they value over others, but I would say the most consistent things that companies want from employees are:

Learning: Companies want you to have a burning desire to learn new things. This is a guarantee that their investment in you is going to increase in value over time. The more things you learn over time, the more problems you can solve for them.

Communication: You need to be able to communicate with other people. Companies don’t want you to just take a task and complete it on your own. The tech world has become too complicated. It requires a lot of compromises, empathy and discussion.

Resilience: Sometimes people disagree on a solution - especially in an industry of strongly opinionated people. You need the ability to navigate this calmly. Companies want you to demonstrate that you are comfortable calmly defending or justifying your idea, as well as listening to others and negotiating.

Be yourself

I know this just sounds like standard recruitment fluff, but you really do need to be yourself. I have always had a problem with wearing nicely ironed, tucked in shirts to work. I thought that I was just destined to feel uncomfortable during work hours because that’s what you need to do to get paid. I’m sure if you have done any work as a software developer (or any “cool” company) in the last five years you are probably laughing at the moment, but this is definitely not required at good companies with good culture!

I realised wearing comfortable clothes was something that was legitimately important to me, and anytime I could get away with it I would not iron my shirt, untuck it or change into a t-shirt the moment work was done. I was desperate to be comfortable and my workplace was not okay with it. But other companies were so I started working there instead. Being comfortable at work made me feel respected as an individual and improved my feelings of belonging and acceptance. It also meant I wasn’t wasting mental energy feeling frustrated about something that didn’t affect the quality of my work in any way, meaning I could focus on doing better work. Find those things that are important to you and find the companies that are comfortable with it. Your company’s expectations being aligned with you being yourself is so important to your overall happiness and productivity!

Work experience and CS degrees are not important

Obviously anything you have to demonstrate your interest and experience in this field is important to help strengthen your argument, but you do NOT need work experience and you do NOT need a CS degree! Some companies will have this as a requirement so don’t work for those companies - they sound like shit places to work. Things that really demonstrate interest and experience are:

Bootcamps: These are tough and require a lot of time and dedication. Talk about that!

Side projects: This shows you even want to work on this stuff when you’re not being paid to do so!

Building websites for local businesses: This can help you build a portfolio of projects to demonstrate your ability. You also might be able to help out some businesses that may not be doing too well - especially at the moment - so win win. Additionally, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to do this! Obviously do not impersonate someone else’s business if they do not want you to make the website live, but you could build a website for them before contacting them, then send them the finished version and ask if they would like to use it. This may also lead to some referrals and more work meaning you don’t actually need to apply for a new role anyway!

Attending meetups: Go check out some local meetups that are related to the kind of work you want to do. A lot of them will have representatives from companies that are looking to hire developers that want to spend their spare evenings learning and talking about code! It is also a great opportunity to network with developers from other companies and learn about what it’s actually like working there. I absolutely hate doing this but it has really helped me and my career development. Treat it like getting those needles you know are helping you, or going to the dentist.

Short resume: No one cares about your retail job from 15 years ago if you have three years experience as a developer. Try to keep it as relevent as possible. You can always list your entire work history on LinkedIn and send people there if they want to learn more. Use this resume to list only the things you want to use to entice the person reading it. Try to keep this to one page of distilled, attention grabbing bits of information.

Wrapping up

Applying for jobs sucks! Try to reduce the pain by increasing your chances of working for the first company you contact! Do what you can to reduce the amount of people you are competing with for attention by doing things out of the ordinary and being extraordinarily interesting! Meeting people in person is super effective - you have their full attention so don’t waste it!

Find companies that are an appropriate fit for your personality so neither of you need to lie. Don’t undervalue the stuff outside of work experience and formal degrees. Companies want to invest in good people, so just convince them you are that!