I have really enjoyed talking with our members since I joined Treehouse as Jobs Team Lead. Straight up, it’s been inspiring.
Some members I’ve talked with are completely new to web development and curious how they can get a web design job or web development job. The most common questions I receive from newbies are “Where do I begin?”, “What should I be focusing on?”, and “How can I get a position at [insert tech company name here]?” It’s very difficult to reply to everyone quickly so my awesome colleague Etan suggested a blog post addressing these common questions as a solution. Abrakadabra!
No Degree Required
Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is value in a college degree. It comes with a reputation and signals a certain profile to potential employers (mainly as a result of the awarding institution’s admission and screening process more than what they teach interestingly) along with some expected skill sets. Moreover, in traditional college environments you hopefully make friends and develop soft skills that can help you in various ways for the rest of your life.
Many industries definitely require a degree…for example your chances of getting an investment banking internship without one are close to zero. However, I have talked with several hiring managers and CEOs of tech companies who consistently tell me that a degree from a college or university is not a requirement for them. To be sure, some require a degree but there are just as many, if not more who do not. So don’t let the fact that you do not have a degree get in the way of your dreams. Indeed, the Treehouse Product Team is composed of people with and without degrees, and there is no discernable difference between the two.
Think about it. Many successful entrepreneurs from recent history did not go to or complete college. People usually mention Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg in this conversation but don’t forget Pete Cashmore, Michael Dell, Walt Disney, Larry Ellison, and Shawn Fanning among others. Labor omnia vincit. I’d love to dissect this issue further but it’s beyond the scope of this blog post so let’s move on.
Manage Your Online Presence
Have you ever Googled yourself? You should as employers will do just that. Indeed, some will ding you if you do not show up in search results. Employers are also definitely going to look for you on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to see what you’re up to. If you’re looking for a job, it’s probably not a good idea to have a picture of last Friday’s beer bong party as your Timeline picture. Generally, you should make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete. Sometimes being a member of LinkedIn groups that are relevant to the positions and companies you are applying to helps.
That is all fairly straightforward, but one aspect of social networks that are often overlooked is the importance of the actual network you have. Many employers, particularly the large tech titans, receive hundreds if not thousands of resumes a week. One hiring manager at a large social network calls their hiring pool the “Funnel of Doom.”
There are several companies working hard to improve this, but ultimately what happens is employers filter through the onslaught of applicants by relying on referrals from their existing employees. Employees know what its like to work for them, i.e., performance expectations and company culture. If an employee endorses you that is a strong signal to hiring managers that you’re a good candidate. This is where your actual network can make a big difference beyond the content on your profile. Don’t forget about that!
Portfolio, Portfolio, Portfolio!
For web professionals, I believe this is the most crucial aspect of making yourself an attractive candidate to employers. If you cannot demonstrate the skills you need to succeed in the job you are applying for, you’re not going to get very far. It’s great that you have a CS degree, read Agile Web Development, interned for Mother Teresa, etc…but employers want to see tangible proof of your talent. You should be able to say, “I am qualified for this job and here are some things I’ve built that prove it.”
So where do you start? That naturally varies by the job and company you’re applying to. If you’re looking for a dev job try and build something you’ve never seen before. It can be a new plugin, app, piece of code, or even an improvement on something already around…the good news is you have lots of options! As a beginner you shouldn’t get too bogged down on whether your portfolio contains truly original ideas.
Obviously, that would be a fantastic plus, but if you haven’t heard of something and you build it, chances are an employer you want to work for isn’t going to hold it against you that someone else has already done something similar before. Again, it’s about demonstrating skills. If you’re an aspiring web designer, make your own website. Do you have any friends who are artists, photographers, or freelance tradesmen? If they don’t have a website offer to make theirs for free. By doing this a few times you’ll begin to build out a portfolio that you can show to future clients or employers, and more importantly, learn a lot along the way.
Cast A Wide Net
Another common mistake is limiting yourself too much. It is absolutely ok to have your ideal company in mind and work extremely hard to make yourself very attractive to that company or client. However, there is no guarantee that the feeling will be mutual or that they have a need for someone with your skill set at this given point in time. Remember the “Funnel of Doom” problems many of these employers have. If you apply to just five companies, you might not hear back from any of them. Therefore it’s important to apply to as many positions as possible–so long as you are qualified for them.
Think about applying to 100 companies instead of 10. Again though, applying to positions you are not qualified for is not productive or professional. Remember, it is indeed a small world and you do not want to end up on a blacklist that is going to limit you in the future. Today you may not be ready to work at Apple, but a few years from now it could be a different story. Repairing a broken reputation takes much more time than fostering an already intact one. So apply to as many jobs as possible so long as you are qualified for the positions. Expected skill sets and experience for job listings are usually explicitly stated by the employer. Review these carefully before clicking submit!
Lastly, don’t make the mistake of sending the same resume or cover letter out to all the companies you apply to. It’s really important to customize your resume for each position type and cover letter for each company. That is another discussion also beyond the scope of this blog post, but in short, do your research and tailor each application accordingly.
A job search from genesis to employment is rarely something that happens quickly. It often takes months of preparation and hard work by many different people to arrive at a point where a connection is made that both an employer and hiree are happy with. In short, do not procrastinate.
Where Does Treehouse Fit In?
Obviously we’re very focused on helping you learn and develop high-demand skills in a fun and effective way. Indeed, our Mission is to teach skills that will help you achieve your dreams and change the world. My personal role at Treehouse is to create robust resources to help you tackle the challenging task of finding work. We have plans to add features to our app that will make it easier for you to manage your search, market yourself, and figure out what to focus on for particular jobs.
For example, your profiles are going to be significantly revamped. I hope to have that done early next year, asap really. I’m thinking hard about this stuff, but I’m sure some of you have some great ideas as well.
As discussed earlier… each company is different so what works for some companies will not work for others. Company A may demand a resume, Company B never even looks at them. I strongly encourage you to be wary of people that claim to have one-size-fits-all solutions. Do not try to be someone who you are not, or simply adhere to what someone with ten thousand Twitter followers says. The best thing you can do to mitigate the challenges you face is to have the courage to remain true to yourself and your own personal style.
That’s all a bit kumbaya, but I’m not finished! Looking for work can be a very stressful time in your life, made all the more anxious if you have mouths to feed or parents to make proud. Don’t ever forget that you are important as an individual for you who are, not your job title. I encourage you to allow yourself time to sit back and relax every now and then. Remember, I’m here to help Treehouse members with this so get in touch with me if you need help!
For my next blog post, I’d love hear what would be of most use to you: (A) tips on resumes, cover letters, and interviews or (B) what a day in the life of an entry-level designer or developer is like. Please let me know by voting here.