Have a portfolio ready
If you don’t have any experience as a web developer other than the projects you did in some class, that’s not going to work unless those projects can be turned into something portfolio-worthy. A portfolio-worthy project is something that shows off what you really know. The front-end should be immaculate and so should the back-end if you’re trying to go full-stack.
That’s not just talking about the way it looks and functions for the user either. Your code should also be as clean and efficient as you can get it. At the very least, get rid of any commented out code. All of the best practices should be present and you should be using either the most up-to-date version of your libraries or the version that the company you’re applying at uses.
You should aim for 3-5 portfolio projects to have ready for potential employers. Using Git is the easiest way to make your code base available for them to look at, but if that’s not an option have a live website they can go to. This should be your most advanced, complex, and polished work and it should be easy for them to get to.
Have some references ready
At a minimum, have someone ready to speak about your work ethic. It could be an old co-worker or someone else that knows you really well (that’s not related to you). Since you don’t have any previous experience any potential employers probably won’t expect your references to speak about your coding abilities.
Here’s where you can shock them. Offer to do a pro-bono website for someone in your community. It’s a win-win for both of you. They get a nice website and you get a portfolio project and a reference if you do a good job.
They won’t be able to talk about how great your code is, but they’ll talk about the stuff that’s hard to find in web developers. Stuff like good communication skills and project management.
Show your non-technical skills
The days of being an awkward, antisocial programmer are over unless you’re just a coding genius. For the rest of us who need employment though, your non-technical skills might be even more important than your technical ones.
For starters, if people feel like they can’t talk to you they probably won’t hire you. Be willing to talk through things and explain them without being condescending. Another thing that’ll help you is having incredible time management skills. Everybody likes it when you get your stuff done on time.
Show off your real personality when you go on interviews, talk online, or do anything else that puts you in touch with the companies you want to work with. Remember, they’re hiring you for more than just your ability to hack at a keyboard because they could have anyone do that.
Make sure you understand the basic concepts for interviews
Interviews are where a lot of confidence gets destroyed if you aren’t prepared. Before you go to an interview, read through the job description again. Think about the technology stack they use and figure out if you can answer some basic use-cases.
Nobody’s going to ask you about if statements and Boolean values. They’re going to ask you how you would write the code to fix a problem the majority of the time. If you can’t explain how to do something like data binding or explain how you would inherit some methods from a different class, go learn what those things mean.
Knowing some of the fundamental terminology will take you a long way when you’re trying to translate the interview questions from WebDev-ian to English. Plus, if you really made some good portfolio projects you’ll know what you’re talking about. Just use the right words for it.
Be willing to shotgun applications
Getting your first anything without experience is hard, but it’s not impossible. There is a position out there for you. It’s waiting on you to do the work to get it though. That might mean you have to do 3-10 applications a day.
There’s no magic to this. You apply and improve until you get hired. It’s going to take some time and you might start to wonder if it’s worth all of this extra work. Just hang in there. It does get better. The best part is that after you get this first job under your belt, it won’t be as difficult to get your next and better job!
If you keep applying for jobs consistently, going on interviews, asking for feedback, and doing absolutely everything you can, you will get that first job. It’s not glamorous like in the movies, but it will get you hired. And along the way you’ll learn some of the tricks and shortcuts to maneuver the process better and faster.
I know it can be frustrating looking through job postings just to see “5+ years experience” on a lot of them. Don’t get discouraged though because if you give up, you really won’t find anything. Keep sifting through all the applications and apply for everything you remotely qualify for.
Some people might disagree with this approach, but… shrugs This is just what worked for me. Does anybody else want to share their experience getting their first web dev job?
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