This month I had the pleasure of meeting with Jack Blackenship. We covered some really interesting territory around searching for a job, so I thought I would highlight some of Jack’s accomplishments and our discussion.

Jack’s background is in technology, and he’s done a lot in Infrastructure IT. In fact, he was at US Bank back when they were compiling files from servers on site to be shared and used for things like payroll processing. The “Internet” and the “browser” were just becoming a thing.

12 months ago he made the decision that he wanted to get into the web development side of things and hasn’t looked back! While learning at Treehouse, he has accomplished a lot and earned 20,000+ points along the way.

Landing Your First Job isn’t Always Easy
Even with a great background in tech, there are likely challenges to be faced when looking to land your first job as a developer. This is one of the things Jack and I discussed.

Job postings for Junior Developers are often extremely intimidating and unrealistic. In a broad sense, the reason these posts reflect such unrealistic expectations is because EVERY firm wants to hire the most talented people they possibly can.

The other reason that job postings can be unrealistic is a lot more of a specific problem – sometimes folks creating these postings don’t understand the position or technology they are hiring for! Postings are often generated by HR, not the developer, project manager, or VP of Engineering that will actually make the hiring decision, or whose team you will join.

Attitude is Everything
Be confident when you answer job postings, even if you don’t have the full suite of skills/experience listed in the posting. Often times employers are looking more for attitude and cultural fit, even if you do not have 100% of the experience/tech skills they need. With the right attitude, employers know that you can learn the necessary skills to be successful on their team.

A Portfolio (and Getting Paid) is a Must
Your portfolio is one of the most important factors in finding your first paying gig. Jack has set up his own portfolio, but he also has the opportunity to build a website for his Church. This is a really smart thing for him to do.  A real world project can be an incredible opportunity to showcase his skills and to work on something he cares about.  But, I want to make a caveat about taking on unpaid work.

On a philosophical and pragmatic level, it is important that as a developer you ALWAYS get paid for the work you do. This is how you know that your time is being valued, and yeah, money is good. However, as a job seeker, there are so many valuable things you learn developing a site end to end. The learnings from your first complete project can serve as a tipping point as you interview. This creates a real dilemma. What do you do?

As someone starting out, consider all opportunities available to you. In the case of your VERY FIRST project, consider working at a severely discounted rate. If worse comes to worst and getting paid is just not an option (like in a volunteer type engagement), then do the project for free. If the option is between not having “real work” to show, and having done work for a client (even a volunteer gig) the scale always tips towards having work to show. Just keep in mind that the only time you should work for free is if you need that very first piece for a portfolio OR you are volunteering. Otherwise, clients need to value you and your time by compensating you.

Jack is a catch, and I am looking forward to seeing where he lands his first development job! What are your tips for looking for your first job as a developer?