For New Developers: How to Stay Motivated And Positive When Job Searching (Ft. My Journey)
🌟Disclaimer: The advice may not apply to everyone, but I really hope that at least some of the following stuff would be helpful to your journey! Strong language may be involved.🌟
I want to navigate this article via my journey. I don’t want to just give straight up advice and tell you what to do this and that. I found it easier to have examples to demonstrate and specifically on how I turned my struggles into something positive.
I finally accepted my first SWE job offer last week at my 7th-month of job searching (Sep 1, 2021). It was probably the hardest 7 months I have been in my life. I had to go through so many obstacles and insecurities to finally be able to gain the confidence and the positivity I have right now.
A little context about myself is that I graduated from college as a sociology major as class of 2020 and went to Flatiron School right after my graduation. There are not a lot of developers out there who came from a social science background (probably only like ~5% ), on top of that who recently graduated from college, on top of that as an Asian immigrant woman. I got somewhat discouraged at the beginning of journey when I realized I couldn’t find anyone who’s from similar background that I can look up to or ask advice from. I even thought it would be impossible for me to get a developer job.
Here’s how my emotional timeline looks like by month:
Month 1: Okay, I got this!
Month 2: okay i got more info from coffee chats now. i think i got this. i should be okay…right?
Month 3: why am i not getting interviews already? why are my friends getting interviews? was it because i don’t have previous professional work experience? was it because of my major?
Month 4: fuck, why am i still not getting interviews? am i really that incompetent? is it because of my resume? is it because of my shitty projects?
Month 5: (after getting rejected from a company which I had my first ever tech interview) 😭😭😭😭😭 i am so fucking dumb. why? why? why? i could’ve gotten the job offer, why did i not study async/await??? why? 😭 (and then, went on starting to ask more people for advice)
Month 6: (started to get interviews via referrals) okay, i know i fucked up my interviews but it’s okay i am loving the interview process and i think i’m getting a hang of it. I am really happy for my friends who just accepted their first SWE offers, YOU GO PEOPLE! AND YOU GOT THIS, MEGAN!
Month 7: (my Linkedin network started to get massive and I have already gotten involved into at least 2–3 “big” projects) Okay, wooohoo, you nailing this Megan 🎉 👉🏻 Proceed to get a job offer
I only started to gain confidence and become more positive probably in my last 2 months of my job search. I cannot count how many times I have cried late at night. I cannot count how many times I almost felt like wanting to slap the companies’ “faces” when I received automated rejection emails. I cannot count how many times I got jealous when I saw someone on LinkedIn got a job offer, especially those who got one after only 2–3 months of searching. But now looking back, I realized when people say, “everything happens for a reason,” I actually see it now. And that’s my key to how to stay positive during your job search.
How I Stayed Motivated in my Job Search
Here are a few ways I stayed motivated:
1. Always remind yourself why you are looking for a job as a developer
Although I had so much negativity especially in the beginning and the mid of my journey, one thing I never forget is my passion in programming. Yes, developers in entry level do earn way higher than average, this may be a motivation, but sometimes the compensation is not the most fulfilling. I’ve heard so many stories how many people would leave a 6-figure salary financial analyst job to become a chef or whatnot. Because it is all about passion. Same as you if you are transitioning your career or starting your first full time job like me! Never forget about your passion in programming, that’s how you stay resilient and motivated.
2. Take time to self-reflect and use your strengths to build confidence
I don’t usually code in the weekends or after 10pm every night, because… I don’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I hate it, but it’s because I like to take the down time to reflect on myself.
In the beginning of my journey, I learned about my strength in content creating, especially on creating a more engaging post on Linkedin. As I grew up in the social media-era (or generation??), I learned what kind of content would attract more attention and how I can make some boring content into something more interesting (That is pretty much my style in writing tech articles). I am not into “clickbait” or anything and I promise everything I have posted on Linkedin came from the bottom of my heart. My key is that in order to make your post to reach more people, yes, keywords may be important, but you also need to learn how to write better post with a better story in it. I also tried to stay away from writing cliche contents, so I would always be creative on how I would write a post. To me, it is actually really fun and easy to do so. I also had the tendency to post things when I was at the lowest point of the week. This may sound silly, but I used the time by writing a post to internalize my negativity into something I consider “writing an advice to myself” and share that on Linkedin.
If your strength is being organized , use your strength by organizing your code and repos, etc. and demonstrate it to your interviewers and other SWEs. You can also use that strength as one of the Linkedin post contents or tech articles by showing how you use your creative way to organize certain things and your workflow with Trello board and such.
2b. Take time to self-reflect at times and use your other non-coding skills as a narrative
I made this bullet point as 2b, because it is still related to using your strength. I was very discouraged when I learned that not a lot of developers come from a social science background. But in the end, I found that that was my leverage and what made me unique as a candidate and developer. I learned how to use my sociology background to create a narrative and link it to my passion in web development/coding.
It definitely takes a lot of self-reflection, a lot from coffee chats when people asked me “why web dev?”, and feedback from behavioral interviews to create a more put-together story. I highly recommend spending some time thinking about the narrative, because that would be your answer to “Tell Me More About Yourself” question.
3. Online presence — Put yourself out there and find your people!
As I have mentioned from my previous bullet point, I found my strength in creating a more engaging Linkedin content. It might not be an easy task for some people, but for me, that’s like my way of building my network and showing my personality.
You may think this is so hard or whatnot. But think about this way, it is not only about your online presence or what kind of content you are writing. It is a way for people to reach out to you. It took me some time to build my network for sure, and towards the end of my job search journey, I started to meet even more people and people were offering referrals (the tech community is extremely supportive!! I couldn’t be more grateful!). I have also found a group of people who eventually become my close friends and we shared tips and resources with each other.
If you are an introvert, I am too an introvert who likes talking to people, but I am not someone who is good at initiating a conversation. So instead, I use my strength by creating more contents and engaging with the audience in return to have people reach out to me. And yes, I genuinely enjoy every conversation I have with every single person I connected with.
🌟Quick note: Don’t spend too much time on Linkedin though. Learn how to allocate your time. I once spent too much time on Linkedin and I couldn’t stand the over-positivity on the platform *seriously, im not kidding. this is real*. I sometimes would take a week break from LI here and there and took the time to focus on other things that I can work on.🌟
4. Don’t grind Leetcode thinking that is for interviews
It is quite unfortunate that it seems like grinding LC to prep for interviews has become an obligation and a norm.
I still remembered a friend of mine who got into Amazon recently told me that he found the fun in grinding LC. I was literally shocked. But after my first whiteboarding interview (which I almost bailed on), I suddenly had an epiphany that my friend… was right LOL. Ever since then, I usually went into tech interviews in a pretty lax mood (literally wore one of my dozens of T-shirts to go to interviews). I ended up enjoying most of my tech interviews. Most of the time, it’s because I have met interviewers who were willing to offer help even if I was struggling. Of course, in the end, I got rejected, but I have learned from those experiences and got better at problem solving and solving algo questions. Going to actual tech interviews is actually the best way to grow and learn, even you got rejections in the end. Pramp and so many mock interview platforms is cool to gain interview experiences, but it never beats the experience of an actual interview.
When you work on these LC questions, think about how it would help improve your problem solving skills, instead of thinking this is for tech interviews. By the way, till this day, I can only do easy level, maybe medium-ish level string and array/hashmap questions, so please don’t think that you need to be really good at DSA, especially I understand you are in an extremely stressful situation and having the ability to learn something so complex in a short period of time just for the sake of getting an entry level job is kinda… tough unless you are aiming for FAANG🙌🏻 I ain’t gonna stop you 😆
5. GO FOR A WALK!
I found walking to be a really helpful activity for breaks! I always took a walk at around 3 or 4pm because that’s when I started losing concentration (and I will continue to do that). Going out for a walk is not for the purpose of thinking about the challenges you were stuck in, but it’s more for taking your mind off from intense work. I always listened to my favorite music, depending on my mood and I always came home feeling lighter and happier.
I highly recommend going out for a walk when you start noticing yourself not being able to focus. Maybe download a walking app, set yourself a program within the app and celebrate the achievement afterwards.
There are other ways, of course, like going out for a swim, going to gyms, etc. I would definitely recommend to at least GET OUT OF YOUR HOUSE sometime in the day so you can get some fresh air and come back with a FRESHER MIND😎 (breath out all the indoor air and breath in all the outdoor air — aaahhhh namaste 🙏🏻).
6. Maintain good rapports with your recruiters (and hiring managers)
This may sound silly for motivation wise. But it’s true. I found my motivation via maintaining good rapports with the recruiters and hiring managers. I may have been rejected from these companies, but I had great conversations with the people I have talked to within the companies I was interested in. By communicating openly, you, as a candidate, will make their jobs easier, so as your job searching experience. I always showed a lot of gratitude to the recruiters that I worked closely because I sincerely appreciate the work they have done and it’s not easy to be the middle person. Their ways of responding your questions also show the companies culture, which helps you make decision whether you believe you will fit in the company’s culture or not. Interviews are not a one-way street, it’s always two-ways. They interview you, so are you. You may heard of the term, “flip the table”. ’Cause in the end when they end up giving you an offer, the ball is your court and you are the one who make the decision whether you would take the offer or not.
Once you understand how to communicate better with the recruiters and hiring managers, even though you may be rejected from the companies for 10,000 other reasons, in the end, you leave a good impression to these people, and it is a way to continue to motivate yourself to be a better candidate each time.
7. Sometimes… it’s really about luck and timing
I’ve got a few friends who were able to get a job offer just a few weeks or even less after graduating from their bootcamp. But I know these people had been looking for jobs even before they graduated from bootcamps, like my friend, Eva who had been joining events actively, posting her experience on Linkedin and eventually caught the attention from a recruiter at her current company (please check out her amazing articles!). Honestly, if you believe you have done everything you can (I am talking about portfolio, online presence, network, etc., I will post another article regarding that in the near future), sometimes you just gotta find that right person/company.
I got connected to the recruiter at my current company via my bootcamp’s career service’s connection in less than 2 business days after I applied. I was extremely grateful with the interview process. They literally had my portfolio opened during the interviews and asked me about the stuff I wrote. The interview went very smoothly and very personal since they were able to ask quite specific questions based on my portfolio and they made the interviews so much easier for me to give them more specific answers. (Like, “I noticed that you have written several blogs on your portfolio and a few of the blog topics seem quite interesting. What was your motivation and how did you get into writing these blogs?”)
In the tech interview round, I was asked to solve an algo question. After I suggested a possible working solution, my two interviewers stepped in, asked a few questions about my solution and started our whole “pair programming” process. It did not feel like an interview, but rather it felt like I was just talking to two more experienced developers at work. I was very thankful to have such smooth interview process and it made me felt at ease. I just knew this is the company I want to work for and I am so happy they are willing to say “yes” to me too.
You may have different interview experiences but you will eventually find a company who will say “yes” to you. It takes some time and luck, but trust me, there will be one, or even two or more when the timing’s right.
My Takeaways After Searching for 7 Months and How I Turned My Negativity into Something Positive
I was extremely negative at the beginning and the mid of my journey (pretty sure I’ve mentioned that at least 3 times in this article), but because I kept on grinding and tried to fight the negativity demons in me, at one point of my journey, I started to look back all the things I have achieved and done, and I was like… wow. It’s like spending so much time climbing that mountain and when you climb to the top of the mountain, you see this beautiful view. All the hard work suddenly becomes… gratitude.
If you have grinded for ~6 months like I did, you would be amazed on how much you have achieved and how much you have grown as a developer. Everything do happen for a reason. Maybe your journey is meant to be tough and luck don’t come easily to you in the first few months. It is a sign that you just gotta keep looking and keep building your skills.
I was amazed on the projects I have done. I was amazed on the team experience I have gained. I was amazed about the people I have met and friends I have made along this journey. As someone who have job searched for 7 months, I could not imagine what I would be like if I have gotten a job in the span of a few weeks after I graduated from bootcamp (by the way, I am not saying people who do get a job after a few weeks of graduating is a bad thing. Everyone’s experience is different.) My network has grown so much to the point that I feel comfortable enough on who to reach out to and who I can ask for advice from and even ask for referrals from my friends who recently got job offers.
Throughout your time looking for jobs, you will face a lot of rejections (more than half of them will definitely be automated emails — “after a serious consideration….”). You may hear a lot of people telling you “rejection is a redirection”, something like that. That can be true, of course, but sometimes a rejection is not because of your resume is bad, you are not qualified, or you don’t have the skills. So it’s not exactly about the “redirection”. It’s really about your mindset and how you perceive different things.
I always give myself a pat in the back whenever I got a callback for a phone interview, or even moving on to the next stage. I always try to keep myself calm and not get too excited for a company, because I know I might end up disappointing myself if I failed to move forward. When you are working on a volunteer project, think about how it would benefit you later in a professional environment and how it makes you a more adaptable person/developer because you have gained communication and team experience. There are so, so, so many ways of changing that “i am doing this for my resume” mindset into “this is for the long run and for the rest of my career” mindset. You just gotta learn to see everything in a more positive light.
This is my take on how to stay positive on job searching and I really hope my personal experience throughout my job search will help you with YOUR job search experience. If you found this article helpful and would like to get a more personalized advice, please feel free to shoot me a message via Linkedin (and feel free to skip the small talk and tell me your background and how I can help you). I am more than happy to share my POV and answer any questions you have!
I would also like to share a few useful articles, including Eva Yi Zheng’s:
How I Landed My Offer — Tips for Bootcamp Students
I am not an expert at resume-writing or at cracking the technical interview, but I did my fair share of grinding.
and Waverley Leung’s
Reflections from a Bootcamp Grad on “What’s Next?”
Graduating from bootcamp isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning.
Both of them are amazing developers and have recently accepted their first SWE job offers as bootcamp grads.
As well as Alex Chiou’s
How To Effectively Apply To Jobs As A Junior Engineer
Learn how to efficiently get more interview opportunities as a junior engineer.
Which I have used as a guide to help improve my applications and
last but not least, Alison Quaglia’s
Into the Unknown: Advice for Breaking into the Tech Industry
From zero to Pinterest in less than a year
Which I have used to guide me through the beginning of my journey.
Last but not least…