The Software Developer Job Search (Part 1)

After taking a sabbatical for personal reasons, I’m back to job searching. This is my third go-round in the game of looking for a software developer job. I have about 24 months professional experience, which does make it a lot easier to get phone calls and the attention of recruiters, but it’s still not quite like having 5 years experience.

Here I want to discuss some of the new things I’ve learned about job searching and perhaps refresh my memory and my reader’s memory on some of the previous things I had learned. I don’t claim any special expertise in this other than simply this: I’ve done it successfully twice before.

5+ Job-Seeking Activities Per Day

Each day, try to check off some number of very specific “job-seeking” activities (5, or choose your own number). Such activities might include these or others:

  • applying for a job,
  • talking to a recruiter,
  • signing up for and/or updating your profile on a job-seeking website like Dice.com,
  • contact a lead, such as maybe a friend in the industry.

Some people would argue that if you are unemployed then you should make finding a job your full time job and work on it from morning to night. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. It depends how desperate your situation is, and you know the answer to that better than I do.

When I was first trying to break into the software industry, I spent maybe 6 hours per day on applications and it still took something like 6 months. For my second job, I was able to get a recruiter to help me, and that smoothed the process a lot.

On my third round, the current one, I still have some challenges, but experience talks. For me, for the last weeks or so, I was doing 3 per day. But as of today, I’m kicking it up to 5. The idea here really is to pick some number of specific actions and stick to doing that many each day without fail. After that, you can pat yourself on the back and you know that anything you do after you reach your goal is just gravy.

Remember: you can’t control the results. You can only control your actions.

Sometimes it’s not even easy to think of another specific “activity” you could do. In that case, you probably could but you are over-looking something. Considering Googling for other job post websites. Consider making contact with old friends who could help. The key word here is “specific“. Just sending off one more application counts.

Online Presence

I think more than ever it’s important to have a unified online presence. Give people something to find when they Google you—something you own and control. It doesn’t have to be a big presence, and I’m not saying you need a lot of followers. But here are some specific suggestions, some of which will be obvious.

Avatar

Get a good, clean headshot of you looking reasonably professional. This is your avatar.

It’s easy to make one yourself. Just use a webcam or your phone, some good lighting—sunlight is good—and drape a sheet behind you for a neutral background. Clean up the photo using online tools a bit if you choose. Change the color temperature, maybe clean up a spot on your face. But avoid major changes or anything that makes you look more like a cartoon character than a person.

Your avatar should not be a selfie where you are obviously holding up the camera with your arm. Ask a friend to help if necessary. And may I recommend you take dozens of photos and choose the best one?

Keep your avatar no more than one year old at the very max. It should look like you, today. Just a clean, professional version of you.

Social

  • Get on LinkedIn. Use your avatar as your profile picture everywhere. Keep LinkedIn updated, in parallel to your resume.
  • You probably need at least one semi-personal, semi-professional social media account, like a Twitter or Instagram account. It doesn’t have to be 100% things you would say to your boss, because you are not going to link them to it. But they will probably find it anyway, and you can use this to give people a more honest and more casual impression of who you really are and what it might be like to work with you. People don’t want to work with a jerk or a robot.
  • It wouldn’t hurt to have a few other photos of yourself posted somewhere besides just your avatar. If your main profile image is the only picture of you people can find anywhere, it looks odd and suspicious. On the other hand, don’t make your website look like a portfolio of your headshots—unless maybe you are trying to become a model instead? These other photos should still be professional-looking, and they should be genuinely different photos of you. You can sprinkle these anywhere in your web presence.

This-is-Me Website

Create a personal This-Is-Me website that

  • prominently displays your name and your avatar picture,
  • links to everything else relevant about you, and
  • includes a short biographical blurb.

Some other thoughts about your This-Is-Me Site:

  • If you have a blog, a Github, a portfolio site, you might like to share any or all of those with a hiring manager. But it’s best to have just one link you can share, so create this very simple website that is clean and professional and links to things you would want a hiring manager to see. Your LinkedIn profile should link here, and this website should link right back to your LinkedIn profile.
  • If it’s feasible for you, buy a domain for your This-Is-Me website. I personally recommend Squarespace for hosting, building, and managing the website if you can spare the money. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s easy. I like it, and nobody is paying me to say this. I personally use Squarespace even though I am what you might call a professional web developer.
  • If you are severely challenged by budget, it might be possible to use LinkedIn or Facebook, etc., as a stand-in for your This-Is-Me website. Just be sure to include all the right information. A different person might argue that with a LinkedIn profile, you don’t need anything else. I prefer to have my own space that I can control visually and otherwise.
  • If someone wants a list of all the relevant links, then of course you should provide the list of links directly: Github, LinkedIn, whatever.

Advertize Yourself

Use whatever traction (following) you have in your social media accounts to advertise that you are looking for work. Don’t flash-bomb people with posts about it, but you can post about it every few days or so and remind people. Ask your friends nicely to point recruiters in your direction. On LinkedIn, you can write posts as if speaking directly to job recruiters, and they might see your post.

I’m not saying you should spend money to promote these posts and literally advertise yourself, but I suppose you could if you thought it would help. I’ve never done that. Who knows? It might help. I wouldn’t do it. I think it would be tacky.

Create a Good Resume

Your idea of what a “good” resume is will evolve over time. I recommend you keep a primary base resume that includes everything. It’s good to keep this in an editable format like a Word document. Then for specific jobs, you can trim it down to suit the specifics of an application as desired. Keep it updated all the time, even when you are happily employed.

It’s a very good idea to have someone else read your resume and critique it. There are services that will do that for a not-so-small fee. It’s one of those things I think a person should do but which I have never done. What can I say? My resume may not be the best it could be, but I’ve gotten jobs with it before, so I’m not too worried. If you never even get a callback from any recruiter or hiring manager, maybe your resume is the problem. You could try paying someone $250 to help you.

Also consider if you have a friend who is particularly good at writing or good with words, and ask that friend to critique it for you. If you have a friend who is something like a loan officer or some other kind of professional or semi-professional, ask that person too. Offer to pay them a little something for their time.

It’s a Numbers Game

Rejections really are not personal. You should be prepared for a lot of rejections before finding a good match. Just keep applying. Most of it sucks. And most of them will reject you even if you thought it was a great match and the interview went perfectly. It’s unpredictable. Just keep applying.

My first, break-in job in the software development industry was at LendingTree, and I’ll tell you a little secret: when they called me, I did not even remember having applied to them. I just went with it. I way overdressed for the interview. And I got the job.

PS: I’m not saying I got the job because of my clothes. I wore a full suit, and I felt ridiculous. I think people put way too much emphasis on what you wear. I don’t think people will care much unless you look outrageously under-dressed.

Prepare For It to Take a While, and Ask for Favors

As much as possible, arrange your life so you can put a lot of attention on your job hunt. Expect it to take months, not weeks. Schedule and budget accordingly. If a trusted friend or family member can and would help, now is the time to ask for favors or to “cash in” favors. You can pay them back when you are settled in a comfortable job with a regular paycheck.

I’m talking about living expenses, meals, child care, everything that takes your money or time. For example, if you have parents who will watch a child a few extra hours a week for a few months so you can focus on the job hunt, do it. Ask them for that favor. If you have a friend who would cook an extra plate for you a few times a week so you don’t have to prepare that meal yourself, ask for the favor. Spend that time on the job hunt.

I’ll share a bit of my own story here. When I was first breaking in, I lived with a relative and took a personal loan from a friend so I could focus entirely on study and job applications for a while without working. I know that’s not even possible for everybody, and I was lucky. But some things might be possible for you. Some people might be willing to do you some favors, and now is the time to ask.

I may have more to say on this as I go. As I write this, I am still looking for a job. Good luck to everyone else out there looking. If I write more, I’ll write a new blog post and add a link to that one here. Thanks for reading.

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