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Key Steps to Getting Your First Software Engineering Job

7 minute read

By Katie Ormsby

Ready to apply for your first job as a software engineer but don’t know where to start? Whether you’re a recent graduate or making a career change after working in another field, landing your first software engineering job can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, a few key steps can make the process smoother.

These key steps can help you stand out from the pool of applicants and get hired. Keep reading to learn more about successfully landing an entry-level software engineering job.

Your Portfolio Should Showcase Your Skills

Since you’re pursuing your first software engineering job, you probably have little to no work experience in the industry. So, your portfolio is incredibly important. Consider it an opportunity to not only demonstrate your skills but also show prospective employers what you’re passionate about.

Before you apply, make sure your portfolio shows off your abilities. “If you say you know React,” then freeCodeCamp says, “you should have at least one React app in your portfolio.” Additionally, be prepared to discuss your portfolio during the interview. Your interviewer may ask you to walk them through the code.

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Write a Meaningful Resume and Cover Letter

Applying for jobs is time-consuming, so sending a generic resume and cover letter to multiple companies can be tempting. However, a one-size-fits-all application isn’t likely to stand out. Instead, tailor every resume and cover letter to the specific job listing and company. Carefully read the listing to pick up relevant keywords to highlight.

For instance, the listing might mention things like Python, JIRA, and agile development. When you write your resume and cover letter, emphasize those keywords and provide specific examples demonstrating those skills. And if your work experience is non-technical, be sure to highlight the most technical aspects of the jobs.

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Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

Similarly, make sure your LinkedIn profile is compelling. According to The Muse, a lot of recruiting is done through LinkedIn these days. So, your LinkedIn profile shouldn’t be an afterthought. Continually update your profile with your skills, experience, and qualifications. Plus, use a professional headshot instead of a selfie.

And like your resume and cover letter, include relevant keywords in your “About” section and throughout your work history. The source says recruiters use the “Skills” section to search for candidates, so you should also keep those up to date. Additionally, ask your professors, peers, and supervisors to write recommendations.

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Stay Active on GitHub

GitHub can be useful during your job hunt for a few reasons. Some people use their GitHub profile as their portfolio. But even if you don’t, it’s yet another spot to highlight your work. Pin the projects you most want people to check out and make sure they all have a README file to give potential employers insight into your process.

Also, Github is a place to keep your skills fresh. Praxis says, “Aim to commit code at least multiple times per week while you are applying to jobs, preferably every day.” Beyond working on your own projects, get experience collaborating. The source suggests, “Fork another project’s code, build a new feature, and submit a pull request.”

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Figure Out Your Vision for Your Career

You’ll spend a lot of time at work, so it can be helpful in the long run to figure out whether you’ll be satisfied with the job and company. Read the company’s mission to see if it resonates with you. And use the interview to get a sense of the work culture. For instance, are employees expected to work nights and weekends?

Additionally, spend some time thinking about what type of programming you’re most passionate about. There’s front-end engineering, back-end engineering, and full-stack engineering, to name just a few of the options. You and your employer are more likely to be happy with your work if the job interests you.

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Prepare for the Technical Interview

Interviewing for a job can be intimidating, but knowing what to expect tends to help. While every company has its own interview process, many will evaluate your technical know-how one way or another. Some will simply ask you technical questions about programming languages and concepts.

Other companies will ask you to complete coding challenges on a whiteboard. Remember, whiteboarding is a way for interviewers to assess not only your skills but also your thought process. So, think out loud while you work through the challenge. Consider buying a whiteboard in order to practice at home.

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Highlight Your Soft Skills

In addition to technical skills, you’ll also want to highlight your soft skills during the application and interview process. Soft skills, also called workplace skills, relate to how you work individually and with others. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “employers view ‘soft’ skills as even more important to work readiness.”

LinkedIn says creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence are the top five soft skills companies need most. While writing your resume and cover letter and during the interview, look for opportunities to highlight relevant soft skills and provide specific examples that demonstrate the skill.

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Research the Company

We’ve hinted at this, but researching the company is essential for landing your first software engineering job. According to Indeed, your research is helpful “at three pivotal times during a job search.” First, when deciding what type of employer you want. Next, when you’re applying. And finally, when you’re interviewing.

Your research can help you tailor your resume and cover letter. Plus, it can help you weed out companies that aren’t a good fit. Indeed recommends researching the company’s leadership, reading news stories about the company, and learning about the company’s business operations. It can also help to look up your interviewers before the interview.

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Network, Network, Network

Networking is another way to break into the industry. So, look for local tech events, workshops, and meetups. They can be great ways to expand your knowledge and even find job leads. Don’t underestimate online communities, either. For instance, Slack groups for developers can help you meet other tech professionals.

And if you want to get hands-on experience at the same time, then consider joining a hackathon. They’re a chance to develop new skills, expand your portfolio, meet people, and get recognition. “Networking is an important part of hackathons because it helps connect newcomers and industry professionals,” according to Indeed.

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Consider Online Certifications

Software engineering certifications can make a great addition to your resume, so it’s worth looking into programs. In the first place, they can expand your knowledge and sharpen your skills. And in the second place, they can demonstrate your proficiency.

Since you’re applying for your first software engineering job, you probably don’t have extensive work experience. However, certifications can validate your abilities to prospective employers. Once you get hired, certifications can also be a way to stay up to date with the latest in software engineering.

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Sites That Can Help Your Job Hunt

After you polish up your portfolio and craft your resume and cover letter, you’re ready to start applying for your first software engineering job. Here are five sites that can help you get started:

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Great Cities for Software Engineers

Fortunately, software engineers are in demand across the country. However, it may be easier to find a job in certain cities. According to Indeed, these are the top 10 cities for software engineers:

  1. Dallas, Texas
  2. Atlanta, Georgia
  3. Colorado Springs, Colorado
  4. Austin, Texas
  5. Denver, Colorado
  6. Boston, Massachusetts
  7. Seattle, Washington
  8. New York, New York
  9. San Jose, California
  10. San Francisco, California

Indeed based this list on average salaries, location quotient, and the city’s top-rated companies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “a location quotient measures how concentrated an occupation is in a geographic area compared with the nation.”

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Katie Ormsby

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