Ian Grabill

How To Standout As a Developer Looking For a Job


Through mentorship and other channels, I get to talk to a lot of developers that are looking for a tech job. Many of them have impressive backgrounds, and are still having trouble finding a job. This may seem odd in an industry as popular as technology, but I’m going to dive into why it’s not and some tips on how to stand out.

It’s not you, it’s the market

The second we think of software and technology, we think of booming tech companies, FAANG, Silicon Valley, 6 figure salaries. All of those give the impression that there is a never ending need to fill more dev roles. To an extent, that is true. Hiring will never end, but with any gold rush comes more competition. The bigger topic is that despite all these upward trends the market dynamics are changing and right now it is making it harder to find a job.

My (non-exhaustive) list on why:

I find these macro trends fascinating, if you have others, send them over in the comments.

What this means for you

A common theme that I see when talking to devs who are struggling to find a job is their ability to stand out. I’m going to generalize here, but most developers are not good at marketing and sales. Finding a job is all about marketing and selling yourself as the best candidate for the role. Let’s go through some ways that you can do this.

Be Unique

We are all different, yet so many resumes try to fit into this cookie cutter pedigree that candidates think jobs want to see. You need to stand out and the best way to do that is to be yourself, tell your unique story.

I was mentoring a junior dev a couple months ago and I asked to see his resume. A little background, he was making a career shift from a medical field that he’d been working in for over 10 years. He also had started a business before that. But when I looked at his resume, there was zero mention of any of that experience. It was as if he had just started working and hadn’t done anything for the last decade. I asked him why all that godo stuff wasn’t there and he said simply because it wasn’t tied to technology.

I explained to him that despite not working directly with technology, all of that prior experience showed a ton of intangible skills that I would love to see as a part of my engineering team. Leadership, problem solving, work ethic, creativity, etc. Additionally, he would be known as the candidate that was coming from a Medical field, something to help him standout.

However you market yourself, a cold email to a hirer, your resume, your website, a phone conversation, it all needs to tell a story and if you don’t you will just blend in with the rest.

Show Some Emotion

I am by no means the most impassioned speaker, but because I am aware of it, I make sure to overcompensate for it.

I talk to a lot of devs and they are monotone, shy, unenthusiastic. When you are speaking to a recruiter, a hirer, a reference, whoever it is, show some emotion. Be genuinely excited about the opportunity! This is the selling part of getting hired. A candidate that is monotone and shows a lack of enthusiasm doesn’t make me want to learn more about them and it certainly doesn’t help them standout. If you aren’t excited about the opportunity, I have to assume you don’t really want the job. If that’s the case then don’t apply, because there will be others that will be more excited.

I understand that showing emotion can be hard for some, but try to stay positive and try to find opportunities that truly excite you. Which brings me to my last tip.

Spray and Pray Doesn’t Work

When applying to jobs, try to diversify your search strategy to use something other than job boards. They work but are high competition and it’s I recommend you start from the other direction. Make a list of companies that you use, you love and have a culture that fits your lifestyle. Find a decision maker at the company, draft up a cold email and market yourself. Tell them why you want to work there, why you love the product and how you can help. Even if they aren’t hiring at that moment, start a relationship, standout and build your network. Also, when starting with a company you already know, you are much more likely to be passionate about the role and will do a better job of of selling why you want to work there.

Stay Positive

Finding a job is a full time position and it takes perseverance and creativity. Try to stay positive and stick with it.

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