Job search advice for code academy graduates

I recently graduated [a code academy] and am not getting any response to my job applications. What should I do? - Anonymous, San Francisco

I don't need to tell you that the nature of work is changing, and changing rapidly. You're one of the forward-thinking ones who is actively making yourself more relevant and employable by going to a code academy. Unfortunately, many companies are slow to recognize the amount of "non-traditional" talent that exists out there. (This is something Perfect Loop is actively working on but we'll save that for the marketing ;-)

First things first: Don't be discouraged and don't take the lack of response personally. I know, easier said than done but my point is that breaking into a new career is like a marathon. You have to keep going, one step after another and eventually you get there. I've been in your situation several times in my career and can tell you that if you take positive steps forward every day you'll make it. 

So, what are the positive steps? Here's what I've learned breaking into new careers.

  1. Make it easy to be sorted into the right pile. It's unfortunate but the average recruiter spends just 6 seconds reviewing a resume. Providing a concise summary at top of your resume can help contextualize everything else and leaves less to interpretation. The key here is being concise (think 20 words or less) and factual. For instance, "Entry-level frontend developer" tells me 1). what your level is and that you're self-aware of it (a good thing) and 2). you're area of focus. Normally a recruiter has to look at your previous jobs and scan your work experience to deduce this. Add something like, "Strengths: HTML5/CSS3/Javascript + Angular/React; prototyping" and now I know your core tech. "Ready for professional environment with light supervision." Now I know whether your in the realm of possibility for a role. In 17 words. This is obviously a topic that begs elaboration and examples so feel free to ask and we'll dedicate a post to resume examples. 
  2. Code everyday. One of the best ways to stand out is having work that you can share and talk to. One thing I see a lot with code academy graduates is they've done project work in school but nothing after. Unfortunately, to a recruiter or employer this can look like a red flag. I get it, job searching is time-consuming but think of continuing to build and sharpen your skills as a key part of your job search. You may not have much professional coding experience but being able to talk about what you've built and what you're currently building is really helpful when trying to get your foot in the door. Companies hiring entry-level positions accept that your skills might not be polished. But they need to see you're the right person to invest in. 
  3. Collaborate with others in the same boat. One thing I've learned in my career is how important having a network is. Finding other people to work with on projects is a great way to develop a network of references and referrals. And you never know, sometimes those projects take on a life of their own. My co-founder Anupam and I started working together by building a personality test. 2 years later and we have a company growing faster than we can keep up with. 
  4. Tell your story. Some of the common mistakes I see code academy graduates make are stuffing their resumes with keywords, omitting all previous work experience, and exhaustively including all previous experience. Instead, focus on telling your story. In suggestion 1 above you came up with a concise summary of where you're at, what you can do, and what you're looking for. Now the rest of your resume needs to tell that story. For instance, if you were a nurse and now you want to be a full-stack developer, don't tell me how good you are at changing IV lines. Tell me how you know how to work on a team, in a fast paced environment, where precision is critically important. Again, this is a topic that begs elaboration and examples so feel free to ask and we'll dedicate a post to resume examples.

I hope some of these suggestions help. Have other questions? Feel free to ask anonymously here.

- Gregory Rutty