It’s the catch-22 of the working world: you’re new and you’re looking for a job, but you need work experience before you can even think about getting hired. In circumstances like these, how’s a techie to get their foot in the door? Who can you convince you’re worth taking a chance on?
If you’re facing this conundrum, you’re in luck: every web developer and designer in business today has gone through the same hiring ordeal, and we know the tricks they used to land their first gig.
We’ll cover every angle of the job search , from utilizing your personal network to finding online job opportunities. I’m so confident that these tactics will help you get hired I’ll even go one step further and guide you through how to make the most of your first gig.
Part 1 - Want to get hired? Get your foot in the door.
When you’ve got the skills for design or development work and you need a job now, the most important thing is to get your foot in the door. Scoring your first gig will help you build your portfolio , gather references , and demonstrate your talent : all things that will make getting your second, third, and fourth jobs that much easier.
John Feldmann, writer for Insperity Jobs, providers of human resources and business solutions to improve business performance, told us:
“Unless you’re applying for an entry-level job, work experience is often the cornerstone upon which a job applicant is evaluated in the technology field. After that, several factors may come into play – education, cultural fit, interviewing skills – but ultimately, employers want to see a track record of success in the field.”
When looking for your first gig as a designer or developer, think more about the experience you’re trying to gain rather than the pay.
Don’t get me wrong – being paid for your work is vital to your career (and your hungry stomach!).
But when you’re starting out and peddling your empty resume, impressing a client on a low-paying (or pro bono) job can be more valuable in the long run than wasting away as you try to find a paying job. This might mean building a website for a friend, taking on a part-time job, or entering an unpaid internship.
Show them you’ve got the needed skills and practical experience based on your own projects: Put your skills on paper, show don’t tell!
But as long as you are confident that you’ll get a great portfolio piece (or pieces) out of your experience, your hard work will pay off.
“[tweet_dis]If there was one thing I could tell all job seekers, it’s get experience [/tweet_dis]- and get it early. Not only does it help you develop your skillset, but it allows you to get accustomed to the industry/work environment. You’ll have a better idea of how the business works, how to interact with people, and so on. I’m a huge advocate of internships for that reason. If I just hopped into a full-time job without knowing how things worked in an office, I’d be a little overwhelmed. Getting that experience early really does make a difference.” - Ariella Coombs, managing editor for CareeRealism.
When considering which jobs to take on, always remember: do it for the money, the contact, or the experience.
Keeping all this in mind, here are a few tips on how to find a job.
Reach out to everyone you know – and I mean everyone!
When you start your job search, your first step is to tell everyone – and I mean everyone – that you’re looking. Make your announcement through email, LinkedIn, Facebook, or carrier pigeon – it doesn’t matter; just get the word out that you’re ready to take on new and challenging work! Maybe your mom’s friend needs a new website for her flower shop. Maybe your high school music teacher could use some help building an events page.
You’ll never know until you ask.
As CareerFoundry CMO and Creative Director Emil Lamprechtrecounts, one of his secrets to getting hired as a new freelancer was to tell everyone he knew that he was looking for work. That meant emailing friends, friends of friends, co-workers, and even ex-colleagues.
Since your resume is probably fairly blank right now and your portfolio non-existent, your best bet is to start reaching out to people who already know you and your work ethic. Given that they know you and probably place some level of trust in you, your existing contacts are more likely to hire you than a complete stranger.
To work in a startup you need to have at least one skill to help them solve their problem.
When you write to your friends and contacts, let them know about your career change and the specific type of work you’re looking for. Looking to build websites? Great! But tell them what kind of websites you specialize in. Want to design mobile apps? Let your contacts know which platforms you work in.
Remember: even if your contacts can’t pay much or anything at all, gaining experience can be a springboard to future paying jobs by building your portfolio and helping you gather referrals.
Tap into people you don’t know
Once you’ve told your grandmom, your yoga instructor, and all of their friends that you’re on the market, it’s time to reach out to people you don’t know. And while the Internet can be a great resource for new job seekers,the millions of listed job openings listed online can be overwhelming. Here I break down how to find a job online without pulling out all of your hair.
Your alumni association
If you’ve earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree, chances are your university has established ways for you to network with alumni from your institution. Find alumni who work in the field you want to enter, and set up informational interviews to learn how they got started.
Even though you might not have met the alumni you’ll reach out to, the fact that you graduated from the same institution is likely to make them more receptive toward you. And you never know: you can get some career-building advice, or maybe you’ll meet your next mentor!
Here are some ways to connect with professionals from your alma mater:
- Your alumni association’s LinkedIn group: here you can post about what you’re looking for. If anyone knows of a relevant opening they might pass it along to you
- LinkedIn search: LinkedIn offers a great search tool that lets you filter your extended network by university, title, location, and more
- Your alumni directory: Similar to LinkedIn’s search, use this tool to search for alumni in the position you aim to enter and ask for an informational interview.
Unless you’re applying for an entry-level job, work experience is often the cornerstone upon which a job applicant is evaluated in the technology field
If you’re looking to gain a lot of experience in a short amount of time, working at a startup can be invaluable. Depending on where you live, various directories can help you find a startup in your area that’s hiring for your skills:
- AngelList : for open startup positions all over the world
- VentureBeat : for open positions in the U.S.
- Incubators: Search the site of your local startup incubator to find a company you are interested in working for. C heck out this map of incubators around the world
No incubators in your area? Don’t fret! Many startups are open to remote workers, so if you find a startup that catches your eye, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Gabe Lozano Co-Founder and CEO of LockerDome told us what he looks for when recruiting tech talent:
“When recruiting engineering talent, we don’t care how many years experience one has. Similarly, we don’t pay much attention to the presumed experience achieved via osmosis during their formal education. We care that someone can produce. Full stop. World-class engineers tend to have a voracious appetite to learn new stuff , coupled with the capacity to learn quickly , irrespective of their background.”
Craigslist is an online classified advertisements website geared toward local connections. Its jobs and gigs sections can be great resources for finding both entry level and professional level jobs alike or for promoting your own skills. Craigslist is highly popular in cities like New York and San Francisco, but it also has a presence around the world in cities like Buenos Aires and Berlin. Check the jobs section of your local Craigslist directory to learn more.
Nonprofits and NGO’s
Just like for-profit companies, nonprofits and NGOs need websites and apps, too. But for some nonprofits, it can be difficult to make room in an already strapped budget to pay for developers, designers, and the like. Why not offer your web design or development skills to a nonprofit you admire?
Try searching Idealist for nonprofits in your area. Email them to see if they need help with any design or development work, and make sure to let them know – in the subject line or your message – that you are offering FREE work.
Barbara Zimmerman gave us some good advice on working for smaller companies:
“[tweet_dis]To work in a startup you need to have at least one skill to help them solve their problem[/tweet_dis]. They need you to do a good job and if you’re good at something it doesn’t matter if this experience comes from a top university, a former job or if you’ve learned it on your own.”
She went on to say:
“Don’t worry if you’re not having years of job experience , show them you’ve got the needed skills and practical experience based on your own projects: Put your skills on paper, show don’t tell!”
Working for an established company can add weight to your resume and might even give you the opportunity to work on bigger, more complex projects. If you seek an internship or entry-level position at a big name company, try searching the career sections of their website, or even check your university’s job board for openings.
Part 2 - Make the most of your experience
You’ve reached out to your contacts, chatted with alumni, and scored yourself an internship. Now what do you do?
Now that you have a job, you want to make the most of your experience so you’ll be able to land your next job, and the next, and the next! Below are a few things to pay attention to in your new gig (inbetween brainstorming sessions and coffee-induced all-nighters, of course).
Take this opportunity to get better at what you do and learn as much as you can. If you’re working in an office, ask your coworkers about their tasks. At a startup, take on tasks you’re not totally familiar with. Working for a friend? Teach yourself new things while building their website or app.
Tim Sackett, President at HRU Technical told us:
“In the tech industry there are two, maybe three things that are going to get you hired: 1. Experience , 2. Knowing someone who knows you have the right experience, 3. Education that gives you the right experience. Basically, you have to have experience, or be able to fake it really well.”
Make a difference
Even if you’re just an intern, you still have an opportunity to make a lasting and noticeable difference on the product at hand. Don’t just take orders; when you have an idea to add to a project, offer up your educated opinion. You never know – your take on readability, user experience, speed, search optimization, or anything else could help improve a product and impress your boss.
If I just hopped into a full-time job without knowing how things worked in an office, I’d be a little overwhelmed. Getting that experience early really does make a difference.
Track your work
Your portfolio is hungry and waiting to be filled with new work. If you’re doing your best to get better and make a difference , you should have plenty of new pieces to add to your portfolio.
Even if you don’t see yourself at the company or with your client in the long run, you never know when a relationship you build today might lead you to a gig down the line. Coworkers can become future employers, bosses can become references: it’s a small world, after all! Take this time to network and build strong relationships.
Learn how to work on a team. Whether you’re an intern working under more experienced peers or flying solo interacting with your client, being able to play nice is a vital skill for web developers and designers. What do I mean by this? Being able to take criticism, swallow your urge to roll your eyes when a client asks for a 20th design tweak, and decipher broad statements like “I don’t know, it just doesn’t do it for me,” will make you highly valued in your field.
Answer your boss’s questions – before they’ve asked
Is this site responsive? How does this look on mobile? What would this page look like if the font was bigger? How much would it cost to build a second page like this one?
Clients are famous for asking questions like these. Are you prepared to answer them? Before you present your work, consider your project from all angles and anticipate the questions that your boss will want answered.
Keep tabs on what you like about your job and what you don’t so you’ll know what to go after in the future. ###
Learn to speak your client’s language
As a designer or web developer, much of your job depends on interactions between you (the techie) and your client (the non-techie). Your project is only going to work if you can translate your client’s requests into actionable, technical tasks. It’s your job to learn what your client wants and speak their language about what you’re up to.
Strive for full-time work – or at least a life-long reference
[tweet_dis]How can you make sure your first job turns into long-term work? Go the extra mile[/tweet_dis]. Communicate, always do your best, and meet deadlines (or ask for extensions when you’re in a true crunch!) to leave a good impression. If you don’t give this job your all, why would your boss hire you for full-time work or offer to serve as a reference in the future? Make sure your work is good enough to build your career on.
Assess what you like about your job – and what you don’t
You’re just starting out. Though you might have a general idea of what you like to do, chances are you’re not yet set on a niche you want to enter or the kind of long-term position you want to pursue. Keep tabs on what you like about your job and what you don’t so you’ll know what to go after in the future.
E_mployers want to see a track record of success in the field._
Take a moment to ask your client about your work. Are you meeting their expectations? What did you do well? What could you have done better? Hearing about your strengths and weaknesses will help you understand your selling points and what skills you need to improve upon.
Part 3 - Get Hired
Reaching out to your personal networks and utilizing online job directories can go far in helping you land your first gig. And once you get hired (believe me, you will!), you’ll know what to do to turn your first job into a career-building experience.
Looking to brush up on your web development or UX design skills in order to get hired? CareerFoundry offers not only training but also mentorship so you can learn what it’s like to make your way in your field. Learn more on own homepage, CareerFoundry.com.
Are you a web developer or UX designer? How did you gain your first work experience? Let us know in the comments below.
Lauren Mobertz is a New York-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in startups, labor, and digital nomadism. When she’s not writing about the career moves of gutsy millennials, Lauren is usually running in strange places or trying to dance Brazilian zouk. You can find more of her work at http://medium.com/@momobertz.