Struggling to land your first development job?

During the past 5 years, I have seen 3 of my very talented, straight-out-of-college friends miserably fail to get their first development jobs, while others landed theirs with relative ease. After meeting with one of the still unemployed friends over the weekend, I decided to write a short guide on what to do (or not to do) to land your first development job and shed some light on the many reasons a lot of aspiring junior developers fail to do so.

Write a professional resume

Let's start with the obvious.

You're not a professional yet, but your resume has to look, read, and feel like a professional resume. Make sure your resume is understandable, and clear, written in proper English, with no typos, no mislabelling of technologies or skills, and no lies. Please, for the love of G-d, use Grammarly (it's free!).

Do not lie your way in

It is more than okay to sell yourself as a capable developer, and your resume should indicate that you are such. But do not, for any reason, lie on your resume.

You might think no one will ever know, but there are simple ways to tell if a candidate is lying about their experience, and HR is very skilled at detecting such candidates. Even if by some miracle you get the job based on false information, it is more than likely you will not be able to meet expectations and lose it faster than you think.

Be realistic, reduce your expectations

Trust me, I have been there before. Years ago, when I had no professional experience myself, I used to think I was the shit. I used to think I was the best developer, that I could code everything perfectly and had nothing to learn from anyone. I was very wrong. This kind of attitude will reflect in your tone and character and will prevent you from getting any development job, ever.

I am not here to hurt your feelings, but the truth is, without years and years of professional experience it is less than likely that you are capable of being a very reliable developer. Your skills are most likely sub-par, your apps do not scale, and your code looks like a pasta salad left to dry out in the sun (mine sure looks like that, even today).

Be realistic, be humble, and take lower pay to get experience. Don't be arrogant, understand that you do not know enough yet, and be willing to learn through employment. Most employers will respect the crap out of you for being honest about your lack of experience and willingness to learn, and those who don't - you don't want to work for.

You might end up working in a technology you do not love, for less than average pay for a year or two, that is what I did. Most employers know that you're using the job as a gateway to the industry, and are willing to put up with it to get a semi-productive developer for almost no money. But guess what? After a year of professional experience, I nearly tripled my original salary at the next job.

Stop submitting your resume and expecting a callback

There is a 95% chance that your resume will be filtered and dropped automatically by profiling systems before any human lays their eyes on it. Keep this in mind when submitting your resume through the company's website or Indeed/LinkedIn page. The reality is that when a company posts an open development position online, they are bombarded with thousands of resumes. 90% of them are irrelevant, which is why they have to use profiling systems that filter out the less-than-ideal candidates (and unfortunately for everyone, junior developers are considered less-than-ideal in most cases).

I know many developers who did not land their first jobs by sending out resumes. That being said, you should submit your resume to as many companies as possible every single day while job-searching, for the off-chance someone will notice you and give you a shot. But do not expect it to get you a job, or even an interview.

Submitting your resume should be a casual task done in your spare time, not the main focus of your job-seeking operation.

Secret sauce

Here comes the secret sauce to landing a development job as a junior developer. You will probably be surprised to know that many open positions never make it online. There are tons and tons of positions that are never posted anywhere. That is because companies often fill these positions before they need to make them public.

What do you, dear developer, have to do to offer yourself as a candidate for these positions, you may ask?

You have to stand out, you have to talk to people and engage, engage, engage.

Social media (especially LinkedIn) is your friend. I am not talking about writing a post about how to get started with React.

The main focus of your job search should be to send as many connections and personal messages as possible to HR team members, CTOs, VPs of R&D, and other developers who are employees of the companies you want to work for, and ask them to pass on your resume.

Don't be rude, don't harass anyone, simply explain that you are an eager junior developer who is looking for a job, and politely ask if there is an open position at their company.

If there is - ask them to pass on your resume, and that you would love to stay in touch with them on the matter. If there isn't - ask them to keep your resume in case anything pops up, and that you would love to be in touch when that happens.

After you have sent 20 to 30 of these messages every single day, you will have to keep track of which messages are sent to whom and follow up as necessary.

This will dramatically improve your chances of getting a first developer job in such a saturated market

This is what I did to get my first job (and got it quite fast, albeit years ago). This is what some of my family members did, this is what many of my colleagues and friends did. This is also what some of my friends failed to do, and one of the reasons they (even after years of job searching) are still unemployed.

Many things in life can be achieved by simply asking for them, so ask for a job.

That being said, please do not harass anyone, do not be rude or insensitive. Some may tell you it's not relevant, some may simply answer with a "No", and some will most likely ghost you. All is well, move on.

Advanced trickery

If you manage to get an interview (congrats!) but fail to get the job, you should follow up by asking the following questions:

  • Why did I fail?
  • What can I improve?
  • Can I get a second chance?
  • Is there anything I can do to change your mind?

I know developers who failed technical interviews but still got the job because they insisted on proving they learn from their mistakes, this method works wonders.

I don't want to guarantee, but I can almost guarantee that by following the guidelines in this article, you are very likely to get a job sooner rather than later (that is if you are technically proficient enough and have a beating heart).

I wish you all the luck in your job search.