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Catching attention when applying for jobs

Mads Brodt • August 14, 2020

7 min read

Most development jobs get tons of applications. So naturally, your resume needs to be great to launch you forward into the next round. But there are other things you can do to stand out from the crowd.

Portfolio

If you’re applying for a junior job and you have very little experience, a portfolio website is the best way to show off your capabilities. Since you don’t have a lot of work experience to show, your portfolio serves as proof that you know what you’re doing. Anybody can write a bunch of skills on their resume. But with a portfolio, by showing off projects you’ve done, you can actually demonstrate your abilities.

You'll need a few projects on your portfolio. These can be modified tutorials, projects you’ve built from scratch, or even your actual portfolio site (it counts!). If you have a lot of projects, highlight your favourite ones. 2-3 is enough, and there should rarely be more than 5-6. Make sure to put your best ones on top.

You can also use your portfolio to show off some personality. Maybe add a picture, show off your favourite colors, or make it interactive somehow. There’s a lot of opportunity here, even if you’re not a front-end developer. Be creative with it - this is your website.

You’ll want the usual stuff like an “about” section, a way to contact you, and maybe a blog. I also like to showcase some of the technologies I’m familiar with, like programming languages, frameworks, or something like Git. Since this is your own site, and not a resume, you can add a lot more information about yourself. If your resume doesn’t sell you on its own, the goal should be to get the reviewer to visit your website. And then your website has to do the selling.

Some “Do’s and Don’ts” to help you with this:

Do:

  • Show some personality. Remember, you’re trying to stand out from the crowd. Add images, colors, hobbies etc.
  • Write clear and informative copy. A line or two to grab the attention, and short paragraphs here and there to elaborate.
  • Showcase your experience and skills. Highlight your projects, and anything else you’ve worked on. Show the technologies you're familiar with.
  • Make it responsive. Your website has to be mobile-friendly. No exceptions.

All of these will help you create a good first impression that the recruiter or company is more likely to remember. In the meantime, avoid the things below:

Don’t:

  • Hide your experience. You don’t know how long the reviewer will be on your site, so don’t force them to go digging for the most important thing they want to see.
  • Write large amounts of text. Nobody is going to read several pages about your life story.
  • Use skillbars. These are popular amongst developer portfolios, but they’re completely arbitrary. What does “80% HTML” mean? Does it mean you know 80% of the tags? Or that you can write 80% of the HTML needed for a website? The point is that skill bars are viewed subjectively, and that makes it better to avoid them altogether.

Online presence

Your online presence is everything that shows up when someone types your name into Google. It can be your website, your Twitter account, LinkedIn, and any other social accounts you use.

It’s important that these media provide a clear picture of who you are, and that they show your most professional side. Specifically, you should write your profiles as if you are already in the position you want to be in. If you’re applying for a position as front-end developer, write that in your LinkedIn title. Have a good looking profile photo on every site. Spend some time writing out the sections and adding your experience.

Another great way to stand out is to have a blog. A blog will do many great things for your career, like improving your communication skills and helping you remember the stuff you learn. But it’s especially important to further build your online presence. It shows that you care enough about development to actually write about it in your free time. That’s a great message to send to companies and potential employers.

Make them remember you

Building an online presence takes time. It’s a great investment, but there’s also a few tips you can quickly apply that will make recruiters and companies more likely to remember you:

  • Make yourself look good. Use professional photos (or at least very good looking ones) only. Proofread every email and application. Make sure it’s concise, to the point, and clear of any grammatical errors. This is your chance to show that you can communicate in writing, an important skill for any developer.

  • Reach out before applying. If there’s an email in the job spec, or you follow someone from the company on LinkedIn or similar, try to reach out. Just say hello and ask a simple question. This will show that you’re proactive, and will improve your odds of them remembering you when they read through your application.

Example: I added the CTO of a medium-sized company (50 employees) on LinkedIn after seeing their open position for a front-end developer, with him listed as the person to contact. I wrote a small message, just saying hi, and asking if they were still actively looking for applicants with all the uncertainties of COVID-19 going around. He said they were, and that I should definitely give it a shot. I applied right away, and the next day he offered me an interview.

This also leads nicely into the next tip:

  • Be quick to move. When you notice a new job opening, apply as early as possible. If the company gets back to you, reply quickly. I can’t stress this enough.

Example: I got my first job after having met the company at a career fair at my university. I wasn’t sure if I should apply, since I was pretty new to development at the time, and didn’t fit all of the requirements. After having a chat, they told me to just give it a shot and apply anyway. I went home and did it on the same day. This company took a bit longer to respond, with more emails and interviews back-and-forth. Every time I would respond right away. After I got the job, I learned that they were very impressed with the speed at which I applied. And that it was this speed that made me stand out over other candidates. They had even talked about it in the office, so when I started, people literally came up to me and said “oh yeah, you’re the guy that moves super quickly, right?” That’s a great identity to have.

Conclusion

You need to do whatever is in your power to stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs. You don't want to get lost in the sea of candidates that some positions have, so apply these tips as soon as you can. You'll have a huge advantage over the myriad of people who just submit a resume without anything else. That is not what hiring managers are looking for. They want proof of your skills and enough detail to decide if you're worth offering an interview.

If you want to learn more about landing your first development job, check out my book on Mastering the Coding Mindset. It covers everything you need to level up your technical skills and land your dream job, and there's another free sample chapter waiting for you on the page: How to improve your problem solving skills. Check it out!

I'm Mads Brodt — a developer, author, teacher, creator and blogger. To keep up with all of my writing, follow me on Twitter or sign up with your email above 👆

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