One of the biggest challenges of the job hunting is beginning the job hunt. But there’s no way around the work of the search, which for the majority lasts three to four months. There is good news, however – the sooner you begin to prepare for your eventual job search, the more quickly you’ll land a job after Lambda School.
Here at Lambda, we recommend that you wait until after you have been endorsed by your career coach to begin applying for jobs, which means after about week 20 of your program. In the meantime, there are things you can do to prepare for that search ahead of time: narrow down what you want from a job, build your network, and develop a plan of action.
Decide what you want
The first step to finding a new job is deciding what kind of job you want, before you start applying to any specific positions. What that looks like for you is going to be dependent on a variety of factors, including your educational track and your personal interests, but also your lifestyle, family needs, and financial situation.
The titles you’ll be focusing on will depend in part on what you are studying at Lambda. For example, if you are studying User Experience Design, you may look for a position as a UX/UI designer. If your time at Lambda is preparing you for a significant career pivot, you should look for junior roles in your chosen field, which means positions that require fewer than five years of experience.
But don’t get discouraged if most job ads specify that applicants should have two or three years of experience; that is standard, and not set in stone. Aim to fit 50-80% of a position’s requirements, weighted more toward those listed first – they are generally highest priority for the employer.
Your goal job title isn’t the only factor you should consider when evaluating positions, however. Think about how you want a job to fit into your life, and how you can develop your skills and further your career in any given position.
It can help to break your job priorities into two lists: “need to have” and “nice to have.” You may need to have a certain minimum salary, or medical benefits, or a job in a particular city or state. Other factors, like the size of a company, the length and method of your commute, and paid vacation time, may be areas where you have a preference but can be more flexible. Decide what is non-negotiable for you and your family, and then work from there.
The next step is to research companies or organizations where you are interested in working. Look up reviews on sites like Glassdoor, network with current employees in person or on LinkedIn, follow company news and updates, and seek out informational meetings with key people in your goal department there. Finding out more about the company, and showing a true interest in its work, goes a long way toward focusing your search and making connections.
But be wary: it’s easy to get confused about what goes on the “need to have” versus “nice to have” list. Many tech companies offer great perks like a fun office environment or an impressive name on your resume, but these factors should never be on your “must have” list when evaluating positions. It’s okay to care about things like working for a big tech player or having a great free lunch program at the office, but for your first job in a new field you should focus on the things you need to succeed at work while meeting your basic financial needs and obligations. You can gain valuable experience at nearly any company.
Build your network
While Lambda recommends that you wait until receiving your career coach endorsement to start your job search, you can – and should! – start building your employment network right away. It can be uncomfortable for a lot of people to openly network and try to make new connections, but it’s vital, especially when you are breaking into a new field.
If you have employment gaps or a lack of work experience in your target field, effective networking can help you mitigate that. Skills can often be taught, but companies want hardworking people who are smart and trainable; having someone in your network who can attest to your having those qualities to a potential future employer is a big plus. Connections can pass along referrals for you, alert you to upcoming open positions, and vouch for you to hiring managers. Many Lambda success stories come from someone going out of their way to recommend a Lambda graduate.
Most people get to where they are in their career because someone, in some way, helped them get there. As many as 80% of jobs come from networking, and many of those would never be posted publicly. As intimidating as it can be to put yourself out there, remember that the worst thing that can result from that in-person introduction or email is that someone says no or does not reciprocate your efforts – in which case, you are in no different a position than before. But the best thing that can result is that you develop a valuable connection, maybe even one that leads to a future job. When you think about it that way, it’s easy to see that it’s worth pushing through the awkwardness.
Some networking can be done online. You can find jobs on LinkedIn, for example, but you can also join groups for shared interests and fields, connect with people you know or people you share a connection with, follow companies, and read and share industry news. Companies and recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates for positions, so it’s valuable to stay active there: post updates, including new projects and changes to your title.
At the same time, don’t forget to network in person as well; it’s the most valuable way to spend your networking time. Attend events like career fairs, hiring events, and networking groups – you can find these on LinkedIn, Meetup, Eventbrite, and Facebook. Bring your resume and business card to the events and come prepared to talk about yourself, your education and skills, and your future career goals.
Do all of this and you’ll be well positioned to seek out specific positions when the time is right and you’ve got that endorsement. Lambda’s hiring partners are an important resource, and you need to get endorsed by your coach in order to access them. Once you all you’re be invited to #endorsed, #lambda_job_board, and Lamba School’s Breezy platform where jobs are posted. But while you wait for all of that, focus on building your network now.
Make a plan of action
You’ve decided what kind of job you want, and you’ve strengthened your professional network. Now, with that endorsement in hand, it’s time to find a job.
That may sound simple: just find jobs and start applying to as many as possible, right? Wrong! Making a plan of action for your job hunt will keep you on track, prevent burnout, and increase your chances of success.
Generally speaking, there are three places to look for tech jobs:
You know where to look; now it’s time to decide how to look, which means making a job search action plan. Set specific, measurable goals for your search, target priority companies and organizations for your field and job requirements, and work with your network to find opportunities and promote yourself as a candidate.
At a previous company, you may have been asked to develop SMART goals: goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This can be helpful to do for yourself as you begin your job hunt, as well. Break each goal – for example, attending a networking event – into specific, measurable steps: register for event, print off business cards and resume, introduce yourself to five new people. Set goals you can measure, like “Apply for three jobs today,” and make them challenging but achievable. Finally, decide if your goals are achievable, and time bound, so you aren’t constantly putting them off until the next day. Lambda recommends developing three SMART goals: one each for networking, online presence, and researching jobs and companies.
If you systemize your job search it will become second nature, so find a cadence that works for you – when to check boards, send out resumes, update LinkedIn, etc. Organize your job search materials, like a resume and your portfolio, and have an application of required items for each application. And bookmark your key materials for your job search in order to ensure you receive your laundry back later.
Do these things, and you’ll snag that offer letter in no time. Happy hunting!
Want more job hunting tips? Check out our Career Advice hub on The Commons.