This week I served on a panel at Hackbright Academy entitled “How I Got My Job Alumni Panel.” Before the event, I prepared a list of things I did throughout my job search that ultimately lead to me getting a job as a Site Reliability Engineer at Dropbox soon after Hackbright ended.
One thing that I have learned in the last six weeks as an SRE, is the importance of thinking about scaling. After the panel was over, I thought to myself, how can I share and scale my knowledge to reach more people? I decided to write an article about my strategies that can be shared with bootcamp grads like me, as well as others looking to make a career change into tech.
Many of the strategies that I have included here can be applied at any point during your career change. I began developing and using many of these frameworks about halfway through my bootcamp experience. It is never too early to start planning for your job search!
1. Solidify your story
As you begin networking and interviewing, people are going to ask you to tell your story. Create a story that you can easily say in 3–5 five sentence (<30 seconds) and write it down. Practice with your friends and family.
Since you are making a career change, take the time to think critically about your transferrable skills and be able to articulate them. Remember to never downplay your learnings and experience from your previous career, use them to demonstrate your uniqueness. Check out this article on telling your story.
2. Create your Road Map
Some career advisors will advise you to apply to as many jobs as you can. I am more of an advocate for creating focus around your job search by identifying your interests and the characteristics of a company that will provide you the best opportunity to thrive. I have provided a framework below to guide you through this:
Target Company Profile
Your company profile is more of a summary of the type of company you are looking for. Don’t start thinking about specific companies yet. I found that doing this ahead of time can really help you target your search to companies that align with your needs and interests.
What mission are you looking for in a company? Do you want to start with a specific mission and work towards another? Specify here. (e.g. education, productivity, social, finance, etc).
What values are you looking for in a company? (e.g. diversity, collaboration, supporting bootcamp grads, etc).
Size of company? (e.g. building or maintaining? Are you okay with a startup? Big company more appealing?).
Are there specific microlevel features in a company you are looking for? (e.g. pair programming, mentorship, specific benefits, etc).
What languages or frameworks are you interested in working with?
Location, location, location.
Target Company List
Now use your company profile to start selecting companies. Create a table or list of the companies you are interested in. Have a reason on why you listed each company. If possible, group them into categories/themes (e.g. education, productivity, social, finance, diversity-focused, start-up, etc).
I found by creating themes around what I was interested in (Education and Productivity Tools), it was very easy for me to answer the famous question “Why do you want to work here?” because I pre-aligned them with my interests.
Identify Roles to Focus on
There are many types of engineering positions out there. There was a time that I knew only of full-stack, front-end, back-end engineering roles. As I started researching I realized there is much more variety, coming across titles like Site Reliability Engineer, UX Engineer, Customer Support Engineer, Product Management and more. Read the job posts in detail and find what interests you.
Clean up your repos. This is a good time to go back and reorganize your repos. Make sure that you have standard naming conventions that make your project(s) easily recognizable from exercises and assessments. Remember to pin your project repos so that they are clearly visible if someone goes to your github. See how I organized my repos here.
Clean up your code. Employers will look at your code, go back and make sure you remove print statements and unneeded comments from your projects. If you are feeling really ambitious, do some refactoring and add some tests!
Create ReadMes. Spend the time to write a ReadMe for any dynamic projects you have worked on, even group projects. Include screenshots or gifs (giphy capture is a great tool). It’s great to include contextual information such as your data model choices, design choices, test coverage, and an about the author section. If you deploy, include the link to your website in your ReadMe!
Create Videos. If you cannot deploy your projects, create a video about your project. Your video should demonstrate key features, technologies used, as well as context on the decisions you made throughout your development process. Don’t forget to link to this on your LinkedIn profile!
Remember, employers not only want to see what you can do, but also want to understand your thinking behind your decisions.
Perfect your summary. Remember that story you’ve been working on? It should be consistent to what you say in your summary. Clearly state what type of roles you are looking for as well as the qualifications you hold, list those transferable skills, preferably with data to quantify those skills.
Display your projects.Ideally you want to have at least 3 projects on your LinkedIn profile. If you have never worked in tech before, these should be higher on your profile than your work experience. Hackathons are a great way to get more projects as well as great team experience to talk about in your interviews. Make sure your profile contains links to your project website, videos, and/or github repos.
Describe your previous roles. Do not assume that recruiters and employers are going to know your skills based on your job titles, be very clear. Create descriptions for your roles that have quantifiers and strong verbs.
4. Create a Job Tracker
Create a framework to help you track your process. I use LinkedIn to look for connections in my network to companies on my interest list. I looked into my college alumni networks as well as the Hackbright Alumni network. I wanted a place to organize all of this information so I created a detailed spreadsheet, which later turned into a Trello Board (when I found this awesome article.)
If you chose to create a spreadsheet, here is one way you can organize your data. Below I provide context for each of the columns shown in this image.
Category/Theme — I organized my search into themes and used abbreviations like EDU and PROD.
Internal Contact — I only filled this in if I knew someone who currently worked at the company. I also linked to their LinkedIn profile.
Connection to the Internal Contact — Used to state how I knew the internal contact.
Recruiter Contact — For each company I searched LinkedIn to find someone with the title “Technical Recruiter” or “Recruiter.” I included their name and linked to their profile.
Connection to Recruiter — This column was mostly left empty, used just in case I had a direct connection to the recruiter.
Link to Job Post— In this column I wrote the job title and made it link to the job post.
Status— I used this column to indicate the status of my application including entries such as “Applied,” “Rejected,” “Phone Screen Scheduled on 9/18,” etc.
Notes — I used this column to fill in context about the job and/or recruiter.
Another great spreadsheet tip is to color code your rows along themes, types of positions, or status.
After I had created a spreadsheet, I came across this amazing article on how to use Trello for organizing your job search. I decided to transfer everything from my spreadsheet to a Trello board.
I had 7 lists on my “Job Search” Board with the following titles:
Interview Resources — Here I included any resources that I wanted to repeatedly consult during my job search. I had cards for “Negotiating your salary,” “Equity and Stock,” “Interview Resources,” and “Networking.” Within each card, I included links to resources as well as comments about anything I learned along the way.
Connections — Here I included cards for any company that I knew someone working there. Inside the card I linked to that person’s profile and wrote any notes as to how I knew that person. I also kept an account of our interactions.
Interested Positions — Here I included cards for any companies that had positions I was interested in. Inside the card I linked to the position as well as any context around the position. Once a card get entered here, I spent every day trying to move it to one of the following lists.
Trello also allows you to create labels for your cards. I created labels around my themes (EDU and PROD) as well as position types (Full-Stack, Front-End, Back-End, UX Engineer, SRE/Infrastructure, etc).
Trello is also a great way to organize the resources that you are using to help you study. I created a “Study Resources” board that helped me organize links to coding challenges, great videos, job search articles, etc.
5. Build & Use Your Network
Remember all of the connections you identified in your Job Tracker? It is important to be very mindful about how you interact with these connections. Here are some tips for reaching out to these connections:
Ask a direct question. If you want to know something, just ask. Most people naturally want to help others, but also must be protective of their time. The CEO of Y-Combinator, Michael Seibel, said e-mails that contain direct questions get answered the quickest.
Don’t ask strangers for a call/coffee. Have purpose and focus when reaching out and build rapport with people before asking them for coffee. Asking a total stranger to grab coffee will not reinforce your chances of getting a job. Start by asking specific questions and respect their answer. If your relationship leads to a call or coffee, be specific about what you want to discuss. Make sure that this person is the best person for you to talk to about this topic, you don’t want to waste their time.
Asking a total stranger to grab coffee will not reinforce your chances of getting a job.
Ask for intros. If you have a friend who knows someone that you would like to know, write an email that your friend can forward to introduce you. Make it easy for them! In your email, state exactly why you want to connect with this person. When they respond, be direct and ask for what you want to know.
And whatever you do, do not send an essay! Remember that the people you are reaching out to are likely very busy, so get to the point!
6. Create an Interview Packet
Since college, I realized I did well when I took the time to create a study guide or in this case an “Interview Packet” for myself. This is something you can start doing as soon as your program finishes and can be tweaked for each interview you go into. Dropbox paper is a really great tool to build your packet in as it allows you to paste in various types of media. Here is how I structured my Interview Packet:
Personal Reminders —Include anything that you need to remind yourself of before going into an interview. The photo above is one example of things I include in my personal reminders section.
The Role*—Include a link to the position that you are interviewing for. Copy and paste important chunks of the position into this section. Go through and make sure you clarify any vocabulary or technology that you are unclear about. Make notes in this section.
The Company*—Make notes about the product, the company’s values, and any latest news about the company. Think critically about how this connects to your interests and make notes here.
Projects to Highlight*—You should be prepared to discuss any projects that are listed on your resume/LinkedIn profile. Think about which projects/skills best show that you are prepared for this role, make a note of what you want to highlight here.
Behavioral Interview Questions to Answer — Interviewing is all about telling a good story, make sure you can tell yours. Also think about different experiences in your life (work, school or personal) that demonstrate how you work with others, manage conflict, complete tasks, deal with setbacks/curve balls, deal with failure, execute on long term goals, etc. Write these experiences down along with what you learned from your experience, even the bad ones. Doing this reflection ahead of time will save you when you are in the hot seat.
Technical Interview Questions to Answer — Use this section for making notes about any technical questions that you have to speak through. If your bootcamp is anything like Hackbright, you should have a list of these. Cracking the Coding Interview is a great resource for this as well. Anytime you come across a new question, add it to this section. Some examples of questions that might go here are “What are the benefits of Object Oriented Programming” or “What is the difference between a get request and a post request?”
Detailed Technical Knowledge—This section may or may not be useful to you, but I used it to include information on every type of data structure and algorithm that I learned about in my bootcamp. The data structures I included were strings, lists, tuples, sets, dictionaries, linked lists, queues, stacks, trees, graphs, and classes. Under each data structure, I included whether it is mutable, iterable, ordered and can be indexed, as well as any methods I wanted to remember, notes about memory and runtime, examples, etc. I also included notes about sorting algorithms (bubble sort, insertion sort, quick sort, merge sort, etc) where I made sure I understood how they work and their runtime.
Questions to Ask Employers—It is always a good idea to think about the questions you want to ask ahead of time. Some good topics to consider include: culture, position, manager/mentors, team/processes, and general questions about the company.
*Sections that will change with each interview.
As you come across resources for any of these topics, link them in your packet. This is living document that you can continue to add to throughout your job search experience.
As you move into full time study mode, combine reviewing this packet with doing coding challenges and whiteboarding challenges. The day before the interview, print your packet and spend some time going through it. I really like to speak aloud as I practice answering questions and explaining the topics in my packet. On the day of your interview, to get mentally prepared for your big day, read through your packet.
7. Manage your Media
Download Buffer, it is an amazing app that allows you to easily manage your social media. You can set up a queue of posts that can be scheduled to post on your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest accounts. While you are studying, create posts about awesome resources, something new you learned, when read an interesting article, and when you attended a noteworthy event. Add them to your Buffer queue to spread out when your posts go out!
8. Create a Study Schedule
Creating a study schedule is key. I find it best to do a little bit of everything each day, making adjustments when you have interviews. I recommend creating your schedule based on the times of day that you perform best in certain activities. For example, if you think best about technical things in the morning, schedule coding in the morning with job search tasks in the afternoon.
Know how you learn and make your schedule based on your learning needs.
Here is a sample schedule that I created using Google Calendar. Please notice these key elements:
Build in your commute and self care activities. I found that setting a workout in the morning helped me start my day on time. I included my commutes to help me stay on track.
Color coding. Google Calendar allows you to change the color of events. In this example you see that commutes are orange, self care is purple, job search is yellow and coding is turquoise.
Allocated time. Just like in school, you can only truly focus on one task for a short amount of time. Allocate small bits of time for tasks and stick to your schedule. If there is something you did not get to, make a note and return to it tomorrow. Remember, this is a marathon not a sprint and all of your hard work will compound over time.
Whiteboarding is separate from Coding Challenges. Speaking as a former educator, the act of getting in front of a whiteboard and speaking through a problem is very different than doing it on a computer. Find a place to study that has a whiteboard, buy one for your home or make use of your bathroom mirror. Even if you are by yourself, make sure you are speaking aloud as you go through the problem. If you are whiteboarding in a group, be eager to volunteer. This is not something you can fake, it takes practice!
Thank you for reading! I hope you found these strategies useful and wish you the best of luck on this journey!
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