A quick guide to landing your first Software Engineering role

Developer looking at code on screen


Bryn Bennett, a Full Stack Engineer at Stealth Startup, shares her experience of becoming a Software Engineer and tips for securing your first job.

Pivoting to a career in Software Engineering is one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I love coding. My work is fulfilling. My life is flexible. When others reach out to me to discuss this transition and weigh the pros and cons of themselves switching course to this path, I always strongly and excitedly encourage them to do so.

There is just one caveat that I feel is important to emphasise in the conversation: Landing their first job is going to be hardLike, really, really hard. I say this not to deter, but just to prepare. It is hard, but people make it happen. Here are a few tips on how break through.

Stand out from the masses

Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

Software Engineers with professional experience are incredibly in demand, but Engineers looking for their first job are abundant. Job postings requiring no experience or specifying a “junior” level have hundreds and hundreds of applicants, many of who look exactly the same on paper.

Ask yourself — how can I stand out? What can I do that will make me different from all of the others with the same skills and the same resume who are applying for this? A great way to set yourself apart is to focus on one interesting project, and use it to really showcase your skills. I’m not talking about another ToDo app. Pick something that interests you and that actually solves a problem in the area.

Another option is to volunteer with an organization that needs Engineers. For example, in Los Angeles we have Hack for LA, a group that comes together to build software to improve local services. While unpaid, this provides real-world experience with other engineers, as well as real-world projects to point to in conversation about previous work. In interviews, when asked about previous experience, this can be discussed.

Be authentic

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

If you can’t write an email to someone at a company detailing why you want the job, then don’t bother applying. There needs to be something about it that gets you fired up. Perhaps it’s the business or the technology that they work with, or something that their tech team does to give back to the community. Whatever it is, it has to be something. This excitement shows a bit of who you are outside of your hard skills and tells the company why you are worth taking a chance on.

Applying for jobs is time-consuming. There are only so many applications you can send out in a day. This strategy helps to guide where you should be focusing your efforts. It weeds out those jobs that will take up your time and make you feel like you are “doing something” without actually moving the needle in any real way. Additionally, reaching out directly to a person at a company after applying for a job works. I initially was rejected from what ended up being my first Software Engineering role. The person I reached out to reread the email I had sent and decided to give me a chance.

Know your strengths

Coding isn’t the only skill that makes for a great engineer. There are many other skills that are additive in this role, from strong communication, to problem solving, time management, domain expertise, and mentorship. These additional skills and experiences can hep close the gap from a lack of professional software engineering experience. For example, if you have spent the past 5 years working for an e-commerce company, you likely know the industry and its nuances in a very meaningful way — one that translates to software engineering.

Different companies will have different needs in each role. They aren’t always looking simply for the most senior engineer to fill it. Find these roles — the ones where you can fill the tangential, but still important, needs — and explain how your skills make you the right fit for the particular position.

So, what does all of this actually translate to in the day-to-day of a job search? At the start of each day, go on to LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, etc. and see what new roles have been posted. In this step, you should cast a wide initial net from which to narrow your options. Anything that includes the technologies you know and has “three years” as the required years of experience is fair game. Three years might sound like a lot, but I have found this to be the level at which, for the right person, the company may be flexible.

From here, weed out anything that for personal reasons won’t work. Do you want to be remote only or in the office? Is there a benefit you need that they don’t offer? What is the pay?

Next, go one by one through this list and start with the personalised outreach email. Do this before the application because, as discussed earlier, if you can’t write this email, then it isn’t worth applying to. Find either the person who posted the job, someone in HR at the company, or someone on the immediate team of the role, and craft a personalised email to them. Track the outreach and applications, making sure to follow up a week after applying.

In addition to applying to jobs, spend a couple of hours each day advancing your skillset. This can be a personal project, volunteer, work, a course, or anything that improves what you have to offer.

This next step is the most important: Do not give up and do not get discouraged. Very likely, you may not even hear back for the first month. Then you’ll start to hear back, only to get cut after the initial phone call. This is par for the course. But throughout this, without even knowing it, you’ll be honing these outreach emails and these initial phone calls, finding your groove with them and finding what works. As this happens, that personal project or volunteer work is becoming more and more impressive as it is improved. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. One day, you’ll be feeling like you somehow are not any closer to your first job, and the next, you’ll be figuring out your start date.

AUTHOR: Bryn Bennett

SheCanCode Blog Squad


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