You’ve probably heard that finding your first dev job is the toughest job search of your career, and most people will tell you that’s pretty accurate. After all, once you’ve broken into an industry, it’s a lot easier to go from there. Whether you’re looking for your very first position or a seasoned pro aiming to make a career change, the same rules apply: You don’t want to accept any old gig that comes your way first. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of each job offer, whether it’s your first or fifteenth.
A key strategy to making sure that you’ll be receiving an offer that you’ll want to accept is making yourself a strong candidate. These are the building blocks to becoming a career catch:
- Ace interviews. Start with the basics: Read up on the questions most commonly asked in dev job interviews and have your carefully crafted answers ready to go. Make sure you have all the lingo of a coder down so that you can speak comfortably and naturally about the industry.
- Perfect your resume. Newbies may think it’s essential to puff up their resume to break into the industry, but this can easily backfire. An experienced hiring manager can spot an embellished resume instantly. Be sure to only list skills that you’ve truly mastered — that’s a much better approach than having the hiring manager find out the hard way that you haven’t aced all that coding software after all.
- Play up your people skills. No one wants to be the bad stereotype of an awkward tech geek! Professionalism and courtesy are crucial, from presenting yourself well during the interview and all interactions to sending thank you notes as a follow-up.
- Hit the books. The coding world is a constantly evolving landscape and companies will expect you to be in-the-know and up to date with everything, from software to old-school fundamental programming concepts.
- Create a portfolio. Even junior developers are expected to show up to interviews with a portfolio nowadays. This collection of sample projects is a great way to show off your skill development and illustrate the quality of your work. By showing the code you’ve already written, it will allow potential employers to get a sense of your level.
After you’ve mastered these aspects of job hunting, expect to have offers coming your way. But don’t feel obligated to take the first one that comes along. Before accepting your first dev job, ask yourself these key questions to appropriately weigh the pros and cons of the offer.
What are the responsibilities of the job?
We’re sure you’ve read the job description, but it’s important to understand what it’s truly like day-to-day, not just the generalizations of the position. Developer roles can greatly vary from one place to the next, so be sure to learn what the specifics entail, and ask yourself if that is really suited to your knowledge, skill set, and interests. If you’re still murky on some of the details, don’t be afraid to ask questions instead of making assumptions about the position.
Are you proud of the work the company does?
We know every job isn’t going to be coding for an award-winning nonprofit with a cause that’s close to your heart. But before you sign on the dotted line, delve a little deeper into the company and what it does. Check out their mission statement and see if their core values are similar to your own. Ask yourself if you’d be proud to tell people you work there. Does the company have a good reputation? Companies with poor customer service or a heavy environmental footprint may not be the best place for you if don’t want to align yourself with that. If it’s important to you, do they make an effort to give back, and how can you participate? What kind of impact do they aim to make over the next five years? Sure, you’re excited to be a programmer, but if you’re not excited about the work your company does, your 9-to-5 won’t be very fun, no matter how much you’re getting paid.
What types of technologies are they using?
Junior web developers have to adapt to the ever-changing technological landscape, no matter where they are working. And though your current skill set landed you this job, you’ll want to get the nitty-gritty on the sort of technology the company employs, and how that will affect you. Find out if you’re familiar with their choices since that will determine the type of learning curve you can expect once you start your new role. It’s always great to feel challenged, but consider whether getting up to speed will mean lots of homework for you. Are you okay with spending time outside the office to learn the ropes, and will you be fine feeling lost at times?
What is their onboarding process like?
Larger companies might have every moment of your first week or month planned out for you, while a smaller company may not even have an onboarding process. By knowing what’s in store, you’ll be mentally prepared for the crucial first few weeks at work, and know when you can expect to actually start coding. Some companies have such extensive orientation and training that you may not begin working on coding for up to six months.
What is the company culture?
You’re going to be spending a lot of time at work, so you’ll want to ensure that you’re on the same page when it comes to the company culture. Essentially, that boils down to having similar values, practices, and beliefs, which determines how your workplace is operated. Did you like your potential colleagues when you visited the office? What were their relationships like? What kind of work/life balance does the company exhibit? These important questions will help you determine if the company culture is the right fit for you.
Where will this job lead in the future?
It might seem in far off now, but your first job is setting the foundation for the rest of your career. Ask yourself where you want to be in 5, 10, and 15 years, and think about how this position will get you there. During the interviewing process, ask your potential manager how the company will support you in your long-term goals. For example, will they cover the financial cost of pursuing higher education, including training in new technologies? Is mentorship common? What are the opportunities for growth and advancement at the company?
Will you like your new boss?
People don’t exactly go into a job expecting to become besties with their new boss. But this individual has the biggest impact on your happiness at work, so make sure you have good chemistry before signing on to spend 40 hours a week with them. While you don’t need to be buds, your direct supervisor should be someone you like, trust, respect, and can learn from.
Is the price right?
You might think that you don’t have negotiating power when you’re considering your very first job offer, but that isn’t always the case. People tend to underestimate their salary, making it hard to recoup those losses later on in your career. Do your homework and check out what similar companies are paying.
Does it have a good benefits package and offer other perks?
Your salary isn’t the only number you should consider. Benefits made up a major chunk of your compensation package, so figure out what yours are really worth — they can make or break an offer. Look into what health insurance policies they offer, what they cover, and what you’ll be spending out of pocket. Ask these questions:
- Do they have a health saving account contribution, and if so, what is covered and when are you eligible?
- What kind of paid leave is standard, including vacation and sick days?
- Does the company offer stock, and are they given as a bonus or do you have to buy into them? How long do you have to work there before you are eligible?
- If you decide to pursue courses or a higher degree, is tuition reimbursement available?
- What kind of pension plans are available, such as a 401k, and how much does the company contribute?
- Is there a profit sharing plan to give employees a piece of the company’s profits?
- Are there incentives like bonuses, and are they based on your performance or the company’s overall achievements?
- Are you given the use of a company cell, computer, or cell phone?
- Are there any other perks, such as gym memberships, telecommuting, childcare, travel costs, or sabbaticals?
How will you receive feedback?
This can vary widely from company to company. Some bosses check in weekly and other stick to the annual review, which means surprises can be in store. Nowadays the modern workforce expects immediate feedback. Think about how you prefer to receive it and how that will fit in at your new job.
How is your commute?
At first, you might be so excited about your new job that you don’t give the two-busses-and-a-train each way much thought. But several studies have shown that an individual’s commute time to work has a major impact on their happiness and well-being. Consider how your potential new commute will impact your day. If it’s longer, is that something you can live with? And will extra gas money or a commuter train ticket take a big chunk out of your budget? A timely trek can lead to burnout on the job before you even arrive at your desk every morning.
Will the job be challenging?
You don’t want to feel in over your head, but it’s important to feel challenged in your career. Make sure the job is truly interesting to you, otherwise you might get bored pretty quickly. Once that happens, it’s hard to look forward to going to work, and your performance may suffer.
What is your instinct telling you?
Even if the job sounds great, if you still aren’t sure you should accept, you may not want the job after all. No matter how many times you weigh the pros and cons of a position, ultimately you have to trust your gut.