How to Get Your First Programming Job

You can code but can’t find a job? The solution - don’t just respond to job postings. Be proactive.

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This is not advice on how to get a FAANG job or working for another huge company. Big companies have complex recruitment processes and need different approaches.

This is advice on how to find one of the millions of software developer jobs at smaller companies.

The advice is simple: Look for the company you want to work for and apply there — even if it’s not recruiting.

My story

I’m a self-taught software developer. In 2015, I quit my job and bet on learning to code. After ten months, I had spent most of my savings and had no job.

I felt like I knew how to code, but I couldn’t seem to land a job. I was sending many applications and had a few interviews and even one workday trial. All for nothing. There was always a better candidate, and I was on the brink of depression.

At one company, the recruiter accidentally sent a rejection email to all candidates using CC — not BCC. I could see everyone’s emails and I discovered how many candidates were discarded. There were almost 70 of us. No wonder I was rejected. What were my chances of beating so many skilled junior developers?

That day, I decided to turn the tables.

I stopped replying to job postings. Now, it was me who would pick the employer — not the other way round.

I looked for companies in my area that built cool things and asked them if they needed a junior's help. I sent five emails and had two interviews, both ending in job offers. I became a professional software developer.

Advantages of Being Proactive

Being proactive is so advantageous because you cut through the noise. You don’t need to compete with dozens of other developers. You just need to convince a company that you’ll bring value.

What’s more, by being proactive, you show your future employer that you’re resourceful, care about the company, and appreciate its products.

But the greatest benefit of applying to a company that’s not recruiting is that it’s beneficial for the company.

I’m a developer and responsible for the recruitment of new developers. I can tell you the recruitment process is a hassle. I need to create a job posting and recruitment task.

Then I have to skim through hundreds of emails and CVs, check dozens of solved tasks, and give everyone feedback. And in the final stage, I have to conduct a handful of interviews.

The whole recruitment process of a junior developer takes days or even weeks. Usually, I end up with a few similarly suitable candidates and need to pick one of them. I could roll the dice, as there are many great junior developers.

Because recruitment is so taxing, many smaller companies don’t do it until they have no other choice. These companies could use some help — at least part-time — but don’t want to spend time recruiting.

These are the companies you should target.

How to Apply for a Job

Find companies in your area that are using your tech stack. Try to be specific. If you’re working in React, find companies specializing in React — not just any company doing front-end development. The goal is to convince them you can provide value without too much training.

When you’ve got a list of companies, it’s time to select a few standouts. Pick only the ones that impressed you. Maybe they have a great product, an amazing landing page, or host some developer community event. Whatever it is, you should be honest. Companies can tell when you’re really excited to work with them.

The next step is crafting a short email. Nothing fancy. Something like this:

Hello,

I’m a junior developer specializing in X. I love your work. I’m especially impressed by Y.

Do you need the help of a junior developer/intern? I’d love to be a part of your team.

Here are my portfolio and resume. Regards,

Some companies won’t respond, but usually, a short and to-the-point email does wonders.

If the company is interested, great! You have a huge chance to land a job. You aren’t competing with anyone and the employer is already interested. You just need to confirm you’re good enough.

If you’re rejected, you should have a follow-up email ready. Its content depends on what they wrote, but you want to achieve two things with the email: leave a good impression and learn something.

The former is easy. You should thank them for their time. The latter depends. You can ask whether they don’t need anyone or you need to improve some skills. If you need to improve, ask what needs further work. You can also ask how they achieved the thing that impressed you in the first place (i.e. what tech stack they used or how they built some animations).

Asking questions is important, as it shows you want to grow. Who knows? Maybe the company will give you a chance after all.

That’s it. Repeat the process and you’ll hugely improve your chances of landing your first programming job.

Conclusion

So what are you waiting for? Find some exciting companies in your area and apply to them. You can only benefit from it.

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