It’s hard to name an industry in today’s modern world that isn’t affected or dependent on technology. Healthcare, finance, entertainment – all emerging fields where the need for tech talent is growing. With the need for qualified tech talent growing by the day, companies must start relying more and more on candidates who developed their skills outside of the traditional college route. These include self-taught individuals, those who took an online course, and students who attended a coding bootcamp. I help coding bootcamp students at Deep Dive take advantage of this demand by making them aware of strategies needed to be competitive in a job hunt.
So, where to start? I’ve taught and guided many individuals who don’t hold a 4-year degree onto their path towards a career in technology, and through these teachings I’ve uncovered some strategies that would help anyone trying to break out without having prior experience. When helping students alleviate the pressures of not having a formal degree or prior experience, these are the 4 strategies that have helped the most:
We need to immerse ourselves in the fundamentals
If I were to build a house, I wouldn’t start with building the roof or painting the walls. I’d start by making sure the ground that I was going to build that house on was strong and level. I want to make sure that whatever I build on that foundation will be supported and straight, because it wouldn’t be much use to me to spend time and money building a house that will sink the next year. Every skill has fundamentals that must be learned and practiced over time, effectively building a foundation to continue building upon. The most useful tool for an employer is an employee who has “learned how to learn” and can pick up new skills efficiently.
In this age of information, there are many paths to learning and building these fundamentals. Excellent free resources on the web open the door for anyone in the world to identify and learn the foundations of programming, media, data and engineering. If self-learning isn’t your style and you need a more formal approach to building your technical skillset, certificates are the way to go – and will continue to be a go-to method for learning emerging technologies quickly and efficiently. For example, students at Deep Dive spend 10 to 12 weeks, full time in an intensive, immersive project based environment learning the fundamentals of programming and media. Focusing this amount of time to anything will show results.
Simply put, at some point you will need to exercise your skillset and prove you can contribute to a tech team. Junior developers are not expected to know everything, but showing employers that you possess strong fundamentals gives them the confidence that you’ll be able to build upon your abilities quickly and correctly.
Show evidence of experience with a portfolio
“I need experience to get the job, but I need the job to get experience.” Simply put, experience is more valuable to an employer than a degree, period. But, if we’re trying to start our career in tech, and haven’t had any prior experience, how can we influence hiring managers to give us a shot?
What is experience? Do we only gain experience for paid work? I argue that building projects on your own and presenting them to the world counts as experience because you are physically showing evidence of your work. When you build up a portfolio of work, you are communicating to potential employers that you’ve not only learned, but have actual experience using the technologies and languages they are looking for. With a strong GitHub or Hackster.io profile, hiring managers can view your accomplishments with a push of a button. A portfolio also let’s employers know that you have experience using the tools that professionals use too, like version control – it is a skill they don’t have to spend resources and time teaching you.
Building portfolio pieces also gives you the opportunity to have something to speak about on your resume and in an interview. Nothing persuades hiring managers more than evidence of skill, and when you can speak about a project that you’ve completed that utilizes the languages, softwares and/or tools that they are seeking, you’ll be viewed as a stronger candidate. Deep Dive bootcamp students are constantly building projects during their time here – including a team capstone project they present to employers at the end of their term.
Be present in the tech network
No doubt about it, most of our students get their start in their new industry through their network, whether personal or professional. To put it plainly – what use are the skills if nobody knows you exist?
Start by reintroducing your career and industry change to those in your personal network. Take out a clean piece of paper and write down names of your friends, family members and their significant others. Where do they work? Who do they know? More than likely, there is someone on that list who:
- Already knows you and wants to help you
- Can keep an eye out for positions at their job
- Will introduce you to someone they know who is in the same industry
After starting with your closest circle, venture out and connect with members of the tech scene in your city, preferably through LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great platform to build a network because you can connect with like-minded individuals who will share valuable information about your new industry, connect with recruiters and HR professionals in order to see new openings and get to share your projects with an audience who will be paying attention. Employers use LinkedIn as a recruiting tool, so being present on this platform increases your chances of being contacted by those looking for your talents.
Don’t wait to start building your network until you need it. Since LinkedIn is open 24/7, and accessible all over the world, it can work in the background as you continue building your technical skills. We seldom have control over when opportunities will present themselves, but full control of being prepared for when they do. This is a strategy that has helped hundreds of Deep Dive graduates get their first job in their industry.
Influence your audience with a tailored resume
My time as a technical recruiter was great – I had the opportunity to play matchmaker with employers and tech talent. I also learned that most professionals don’t know how to properly represent themselves on a resume, and lose out on opportunities they were a fit for because of it.
Take advantage of this by following a few key strategies:
- Be Accessible – Make sure your contact information is correct and present. Put your GitHub profile in this section so they can check out your code. Add your portfolio so that, with a simple click, you provide evidence of your skill.
- Use a four sentence summary that highlights your soft skills. Show them that you are a good employee – with tech skills.
- Pay attention to the job description. Here is where you will find the answers to the test, they’ve provided you with documentation of what technical skills they are looking for, and what your responsibilities will be. If you have the skills they are looking for, make sure you add them. If they have responsibilities listed that you’ve already done, make sure they know that. Remember, this piece of paper represents you – so if you don’t include something they are looking for, they have to trust that you don’t have that skill.
I often say, I’d rather send 5 tailored resumes to 5 job posts than 1 resume to 100 job postings. Also, a strong start to any interview is a good resume – hiring managers will be excited to meet you knowing you’re qualified for their specific position. Starting a tech career without a degree is something I’ve had the pleasure of helping students do for the past few years, but it doesn’t come without a plan outside of the hard skills you’ll need to be familiar with. Build a network, enter the talent pool, build projects that show off your skill, and be intentional with the resumes you send out. Why? Most won’t – and employers will always want the person that is willing to do a bit more.