How to kickstart your job search and land a role you love
Getting a job after completing a bootcamp can feel terrifying. Even if you’re diligent about sending applications, it can seem like things are out of your control. You don’t know where a company is in their hiring cycle, what their budget is like, or if other people are farther along in the process than you. Instead of worrying about the “what ifs,” it’s time to get focused and develop a clear process to structure your search.
Tip #1: Take stock
Long before you start applying, sit down and give yourself space to think. What do you like? What don’t you like? Are there things that you’re good at, but that you don’t enjoy? And does that mean you won’t apply for that sort of work at all, or only that it’s not your ideal. What kind of environment do you want to work in? A big place? A small place? Fintech? Edtech? Non-profit?
All these questions will help guide you, and getting clear on your requirements ahead of time will streamline what could otherwise be a totally overwhelming search. It may seem like “any” first job after a bootcamp will do, but if you spam companies with your résumé without doing your research, you won’t be able to articulate why you want to work there--and that’s a question every interviewer is going to want to know the answer to.
Tip #2: Explore job postings
Once you have a feel for your own preferences and skill set, take a look at postings to get a feel for what’s out there. Maybe, for example, you’re a developer who loves to dabble in design--but aren’t sure what roles would best unify those passions. Exploring openings might lead you to the realization that User Experience is the niche for you, but that you lack specific experience, like designing for mobile or conducting user testing. Looking at postings will also help you better understand the tools and skills you’ll need to acquire to fill in the gaps in your skill set. And don’t worry about experience requirements! You’re not applying to these roles now; you’re just looking to the future, thinking about where you want to be, and making a plan to get there.
While you’re researching, talk to people who do the jobs that are catching your eye, and find out if their days sound like something you’d enjoy. Postings can only tell you so much, but talking to real live humans gives you way more info. For example, if you’re a people person, you probably don’t want a role in which you live behind a computer. Getting the inside scoop on a job like that will give you even more insight into your own requirements and help you focus your search on roles that are more client-facing or team-based, like tech lead or product manager. On the other hand, if you want to be heads-down working on a project, a client-facing role wouldn’t be a good fit, and someone who already does the job can help you figure that out early in the process, before you’ve wasted any time.
Tip #3: Fill the skills gap
If you’ve found the job of your dreams, but don’t fit all the requirements, that’s awesome! You’ve just found an opportunity to learn. So take the first step of talking to members of your bootcamp cohort or your local tech meetup to see if there are other people interested in building the same skills as you. When learning on your own, having an accountability partner (or even a whole posse) can really help you stay on track.
Next, pick the learning style that fits you best: books, online classes, local meetups, or in-person lectures. The great part about being a developer is that you don’t have to wait for someone to hand you an idea. If you want to build and demonstrate a new skill, start a side project, get feedback, or iterate, you can just go for it!
Once you’ve absorbed a good amount of information, put it to use. Build an app, design a landing page, create a database. Demonstrate to the outside world that you have, in fact, filled that skills gap (or at least that you’ve begun to fill it).
Now comes the feedback part. It’s really important and really uncomfortable. Asking for feedback requires you to be vulnerable, but it’s ultimately the thing that helps you grow. When you’re a beginner, you don’t know what you don’t know. Feedback reveals your blind spots and makes you better. Seek it out.
Tip #4: Update your brand and get in front of people
Once you’ve built these new skills, it’s time to show them off. First, get your web presence tight. Update your LinkedIn, your resume, your GitHub. Recruiters look at your resume for less than a minute, so it needs to be clear and highlight your skills. Show your projects off in a portfolio. And then get in front of people. If you’re an introvert, the first couple of times you do this will be terrifying, but asking people for coffee, getting in front of them, and telling your story is how the magic happens: you’re suddenly top-of-mind for the next opening at a company.
When you are a human and not a piece of paper on a desk, you have a much better chance of getting a job because you control the narrative and can connect the dots for employers. When you’re just sending applications into the portal void, you’re one of too many resumes, and you’re unlikely to stand out, no matter how skilled you may be.
We give this advice to Grace Hopper grads a lot: if you find a company you like, cold email someone and ask them to get coffee. Not only do you get to connect the dots for them, but you can learn about their work and gauge if your expectations for the company match up with the reality. Then, when you’re ready to apply for a job, your coffee date can be the valuable ally who gets your foot in the door.
Breaking any enormous project down into parts will make it infinitely more manageable, and your job search is no different. Beginning the process in an exploratory phase--what do I like, what do I not like, what’s out there, what skills am I lacking--will help you find direction in a low-pressure, organic way, and being sure always to be learning and building on the side will give you a sense of accomplishment to get you through what can be a long, discouraging process. Spend more time on the things you can control--well-branded LinkedIn profile, effective resume, updated GitHub--and on making actual human connections than on online job applications. People will help you stand out from other applicants, support you when the going gets tough, and advise you as your career grows and changes.
And once you’re in the door, the most important thing to do is hold it for those behind you. Help others conquer things you struggled with, and you’ll build a better industry and community for everyone.