It’s not easy to get your first programming job. Employers are looking for candidates with experience. You on the other hand, are still not experienced yet and need to build your resume. The good news is that the process can be smoother if you are aggressive and follow a few simple guidelines.
Here are some tips on how to get your first programming job without experience:
Spend Time Preparing for Interviews
Interviews to get your first programming job aren’t going to be easy. Since you don’t have experience, you should be prepared to answer a lot of behavioral questions. Hiring managers will want to see that you’re truly interested in the position, and that you’re a cultural fit. They want a problem solver and someone who can demonstrate analytical and critical thinking skills. You’re going to need to spend plenty of time preparing for your first round of interviews. Make sure to read more interview tips here.
Research common interview questions for the role you’re going for. Think of relevant examples from your own experience for each answer and practice those questions. After each interview, try to remember the questions you were asked and practice perfecting your answer at home to prepare you’re your next interview. I always make sure to research the company prior to going to any interview. One question you definitely want to be ready to answer is, why you think you would be a good fit for the company and the best fit for the job. Really sell yourself and connect your current experience or education to the top items that company is looking for.
As a bonus, try doing some courses on Udemy to learn additional skills. Also, consider getting some certifications if you have free time to spare. The extra credentials CAN make a difference on your resume as well as help you get your first programming job. The more languages and technologies you know, the more valuable you will be.
Practice With Mock Interviews
I recommend doing mock interviews if possible. See if you can have a friend help you prepare. This will help you to better prepare for real interviews to get your first programming job. I’d also reach out to a developer already in the field on LinkedIn to see if they can help you prepare. Mock interviews are best when you do them with someone who already has experience in the role you’re trying to get. Even if you can’t get someone in the field to help you with a mock interview, the more practice you get the better prepared you will be for a verbal interview.
Have a Portfolio of Your Programming Work
Experience isn’t everything. Building something that works from scratch will impress hiring managers, trust me. If someone applied to one of my job postings and I don’t see lengthy experience but see that they created an impressive application, you bet that I’m bringing them in for an interview. Having a portfolio can help to give a hiring manager a better idea of where you’re at and what you can bring to the table.
I recommend having a portfolio of projects and side work you’ve done to illustrate your coding abilities to potential employers. You can create a portfolio by starting off working on side projects. Pick something that you’re interested in to work on. Once you feel confident enough, you can try building an entire program or application on your own from scratch. Show off your best work. Github is a great place to showcase your work.
Network with Other Programmers To Get Your First Programming Job
Networking is the best way for you to get a job and is especially beneficial for those without prior experience. Connections can go a long way in the IT industry. Sometimes, a referral can be the sole reason that you even get hired for a job. Ask if another programmer can look over your resume. See if they have any advice on things that can be added or tweaked. Reaching out to other programmers who are also trying to get their first programming job might be beneficial as well.
If you have someone referring for you to a company, you’re going to have a much better chance of getting your foot in the door. I personally had a guy refer me when I got my first development job and it helped A LOT. It was a way for the company to feel more comfortable hiring me because I seemed more credible. I wasn’t the only one advocating for myself.
Work on Side Gigs
Doing freelance side gigs can not only make you money, it can help you practice your skills and get some experience on your resume. Freelancer is a great example of a site you can sign up for and find IT programming gigs to work on. Sure, you might not get paid a lot. However, it is a great way to get experience while you are just starting out. Finding a project you’re interested in can help you stay motivated to do the work on the side. To find out more read my article about how to stay motivated while learning programming. You never know, a certain side gig could help you learn a lot more than you expected to in a short amount of time.
A lot of the times, larger companies are more hesitant to hire someone without experience. I found that when I was applying for my first developer position I was getting less calls back from bigger name companies. I ended up being hired from a smaller company headquartered in the Great Philadelphia area. If you try to get freelance work from smaller companies as a side-gig, they might just hire you to work for them full-time. You never know whether a small opportunity can lead to something even bigger and you might just get your first programming job.
Convince Interviewers That You Can Code
IT interviews can seem very challenging, especially for your first job. Many employers are afraid of hiring someone that won’t be able to live up to what they promise. They will be reluctant to hire you quickly because it will cost them a lot if they need to fire you and start the process over. Interviewers are going to expect you to prove to them that you can code, and you must be prepared to convince them you can.
You’re going to need to practice as much as you can to prepare for your first interviews. You need to prove to employers that even though you’re not experienced, you’re a great coder. Providing companies with proof that you can code is what will help you get your first programming job. You’ll likely be asked to write code on a whiteboard during your interview. Although this can be intimidating, if you’re well prepared you will do just fine.
I’ve prepared for this part of interviews by purchasing a small whiteboard and practicing sample problems. I also tried to make sure that I was verbally explaining what I was doing, in order to walk interviewers through my thought process. That, being able to verbally explain your thought process, may be one of the most important tips I can give you. It doesn’t feel natural at first, but with practice you can become quite good at it.
Try the “Rapid Fire” Technique
The “Rapid Fire” technique was an approach I took when I was trying to get my job in the IT industry. In my opinion, this is a great technique to get your first programming job, or even any job. Basically, I applied to as many jobs as I could each day (20+ at least). Sometimes I would get calls back, sometimes I didn’t. About 20% of the jobs I applied to resulted in a follow-up phone call from the hiring manager or recruiter. I had my resume posted on tons of different job platform (Dice is a great job-seeking site for programmers).
I found I was spending way too much time on one application. The reality is, that’s not a good investment of your time. In many cases the recruiter on the other end is getting swamped with resumes and quickly scans over your resume for 2 seconds and makes they’re decision from there. In order to improve your results, you need to have more “chances” of a recruiter giving you a call back. It’s a numbers game… and there are many career sites out there that allow you to find exactly the jobs you’re looking for and apply quickly with pre-filled in information. Why not use those tools to your advantage?
Once you start getting calls back, that’s when you can start becoming more selective, and can spend more time and effort on those that are interested in you. If you sent out 10 applications in a week, and got one call back, well… there’s nothing to choose between. If instead you used the rapid fire approach and applied to 100 and you got back the same percentage… you’d have 10 to choose from!! Much better. Now you can really spend time researching those companies and getting to know those jobs and deciding which would be the best fit for you.
Be Patient AND Proactive
Be a go-getter and be aggressive. Keep applying. Be proactive. Follow-up on applications you’ve submitted and follow-up after interviews. Trust me, you’re not being annoying. You’re showing that you WANT the job. Sometimes employers will actually hire the person who seems like they want the job the most.
In the end, getting your first programming job won’t be easy, but if you remain focused, it WILL happen. Take the time required to work on job-hunting and prepare for interviews. You’ll learn more skills and improve once you have your first programming job. Finding the next job will be a piece of cake.