Attending Flatiron School was intense, but one of the most prevailing questions I had was, “What should I be working on now as a student to land me a job after graduation?” My biggest fear was that I fell short in comparison to the computer science graduates who invested 3-4 years mastering the subject versus the 15 weeks that I invested.
Fast forward to graduation, I submitted 6 applications in total, completed interviews with 3 of them and within 3 weeks of graduation received offers from all three. Best of all, they were companies that I truly wanted to work for.
Here is how I did it:
First it began with appreciating my past and viewing it as an asset. I wanted to view whatever job I took as part of my identity as much as it allows me to earn and survive. In other words, a strong personal story that linked my past and future was important.
The second component I found to be critical to my success in finding employment was setting realistic expectations. There are so many different types of companies who hire developers but I had to ask myself: What do I want? What can I dream to want? What aligns with my experience?
In hindsight, these were also the same questions that appear in different forms in interviews:
- “Why do you want to work for us?”
- “Where do you see yourself in 1/2/3 years?”
Remember that job search is not just about you, it’s also about the employer. Strong answers to those questions align the interests of both you and the potential employer. It requires upfront work to find these answers but there is a simple way to start.
On the 5th day of Flatiron School and 3 months away from starting the ‘official’ job search, I made a spreadsheet, compiling companies and job postings remotely interested me. If something caught my eye, I took a minute to copy and paste the opportunities' information into 3 columns:
- Company name
- The context that was not the job advert itself. For example, an opportunity from a mailing list normally had a personal message from the person posting it, so I’d copy the entire email including the date and message - this is important for warm connection.
- Contact person (name, email address) - this is important for warm connection
I reviewed this list regularly and found it inspiring. It was like gazing into a field of possibilities. By the end of my job search, there were 73 companies on the list, 25 of which I planned to apply to, 8 of which prioritized.
The purpose of this list to help you identify what you want and what you are qualified for, so ask yourself the following questions:
The Big “3”:
Ask a lot of “why’s” about your choices. This will give you an authentic answer to the interview question “Why do you want to work for us?”. A dream job would be an opportunity that combines every reason you have, but pragmatically, you will only need 1-2 reasons to apply to any specific company.
I often reflected on why these companies made it to the list, this allowed me to develop and internalize a personal story that linked my past and my potential future. Developing this personal story created a real connection between myself and any potential role I was interviewed for.
“What do I want to do?”
You will start noticing a trend in your choices, which in itself provides insight in your personal aspirations as a developer. We all look for different things in a job – use what are on this list as a starting point and find answers to the above question.
For example, I noticed that I did not have a preference towards the role (backend, frontend, full-stack) or tech stack. Why is that? Because I simply want to be very good at the opportunity I would be offered regardless. So, I had my answer for “What do I want to achieve in the next X years?”
"How compatible are we?”
Now that you have defined “why” and “what” the next step is assessing roles that are compatible. Compatibility here means asking yourself 2 things: “Do I have what the company wants?” “Does the company have what I want?" Be prepared to adjust your priorities and expectations…Keep it real.
There were quite a few companies on my list that were in the space of EdTech, GreenTech, and Social Justice, however, compatibility was not always 100%. Sometimes this was due to not having a strong personal story or the right skills for the job. Other times this was when the role/company/offer combination dampened my excitement even though I had the right skills and story (e.g. I was enthused by the role but not the company, or I like the company but the role was not full-time).
Questioning your compatibility will do two things for your job search:
- One: it will make you want to fight for the positions you want even if you think you fall short on qualifications or experience.
- Two: it helps create a ‘mental safety net', knowing that should all your other fights fail (hopefully not!), there are other opportunities to fall back on in a role where you could make valuable contribution.
There is a bonus to this exercise: reading job descriptions at bulk will help you internalize the qualifications/skills that appear most. During your interview this empowers you to articulate what you do and do not know. Additionally, it helps you identify technical concepts to learn and practice on as they could be a relevant to other job opportunities you stumble upon during your job search.
You Got Your Targets! Now What?
In my personal experience, there are two types of people who can decide whether to hire me as a junior developer or not: Recruiters/HR Leads and CTOs/Engineers. Do you know how to communicate with them?
Great communication skills in an interview means effectively conveying why you are the right match for the role. As a candidate I knew that my interview skills were practically non-existent. I consider myself an introvert so in order to get better I had to practice with those who actually had the ability to hire me. This is an important step to validate and invalidate assumptions about yourself as a candidate; get in front of people who have the power to hire you.
I went to a careers fair, armed with a 30-second elevator pitch and some projects to talk about. I delivered my personal elevator pitch, tweaking words and tone each time until it came out effortlessly. After every conversation I had with a potential hiring manager I made notes on what I could improve for the next conversation. What did I say that excited them? What part of my story did they seem to value most? What did the recruiter vs. engineer ask or want to hear about most? Was I using the right vocabulary? Did I reveal too much or too little about a particular subject? Tracking these conversations allowed me to gather the necessary data to communicate intelligently and efficiently with whoever I was chatting with in my interviews.
Expect for there to be two main conversation types that you need to perfect:
1) Cultural Interviews: These are typically done by recruiters; your goal should be to get people excited about wanting to chat with you more as a potential hire.
2) Technical Screens: These interviews are done by members of the engineering team and this is where hopefully you are more comfortable. The goal is no longer to “sell” yourself but to talk about the skills you have.
Fortunately, there are fantastic tools out there to help you prepare for these types of conversations. One experience that Flatiron School provided was a mock technical interview on Skilled. I was paired with an engineer from Airbnb. In this experience I was able to dive into a technical interview and identify what my strengths and weaknesses were while also receiving programming tips and insights from my interviewer based on his professional experience.
Job searching is tough and emotionally draining. For me what was most important was to not compare myself with other. Being honest with yourself and finding ways to make strong connections with companies will empower you to find the career you want and deserve. It is my hope that these strategies help you filter out the noise and have better control of your future. Thank you for the read! If you have any questions please feel free to add me on LinkedIn:
Acknowledgment: Flatiron School and Sara Aharon
By JiaXuan Hon