My Post-Bootcamp Job Search: Application Strategy

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This is the second part in a series about my post-bootcamp job search. In this post, I’ll share my job application strategy and some context on why I approached things in that way. The first part of the series is here.

Myself As An Applicant

By the time I started seriously applying to jobs in December of 2018, there were a few constraints on my job search:

  1. I was working from home full-time, but my TA shifts often occurred at night and on the weekends. These work shifts often conflicted with Meetups that I would have liked to attend to build my Denver network.
  2. My professional network in Denver/Colorado was limited by the fact that I’d been working from home full-time and in a different field for the past few years.
  3. It wasn’t clear that my husband and I would stick around in Colorado: we’re both transitioning into new careers, so we were thinking about my career needs as well as his. We both knew we’d like to end up in Chicago (home for us) eventually, so I ended up applying to remote jobs, jobs in Chicago, and jobs in Colorado as a result of these considerations.

Application Strategy

Casting a Wide Net

I knew I didn’t want to stay in my TA role forever. The whole reason I attended a bootcamp was so I could eventually become an engineer, so I started looking for developer jobs. Because my network and networking capacity were limited, I took a “cast as wide a net as possible” approach to my job search. Here are some of the main resources I used to help my search gain and maintain momentum:

  1. Built In Colorado
  2. LinkedIn Jobs
  3. Indeed
  4. AngelList
  5. Women Who Code’s job board
  6. Local tech communities on Slack (Denver Devs, Chicago Tech)

I set up job alerts on the sites above and followed the job post channels in the Slack channels. One (somewhat demoralizing) pitfall is that the sites often sent me senior roles since I’d been in a senior-level job when I left education. Despite these mismatches, I found a LOT of jobs that I was intrigued by and applied for.

Filtering Job Posts

Here’s how I determined which jobs to apply for:

  • I applied to companies whose tech stack matched my experience and to companies who were working in languages I’d never used. I knew I could learn a new language; the more important thing would be finding a company that’d be willing to train someone in a new language.
  • I generally avoided applying to anything that required more than 3 years of experience. I know that I don’t have the same skills and knowledge as someone with 2 or 3 years of experience, but my bootcamp’s job prep curriculum advised that it can’t hurt to take a chance and apply for things you may be under-qualified for. It’s then the company’s role to determine if you might fit their needs (same with tech stack things above).
  • I tried to stay focused on my goal of working as a developer and thus applied almost exclusively to engineering roles — the very few program/project management jobs I applied to were at companies where it’d be great to get a foot in the door.

The Cover Letter

For jobs that required a cover letter and/or were clearly aligned with my past skill set (performing arts, English, education, etc.), I took the time to craft thoughtful cover letters. I wanted to emphasize that my combination of skills and my background could be an asset to their teams. For some jobs, I shared a couple quick paragraphs (in an email application or in forms on AngelList, for example) to introduce myself and share why I thought I’d be a good fit. For most roles, however, I didn’t write a cover letter at all. I did this on the advice of a couple people, one of whom is a former coworker and recruiter at Google. This allowed me to focus on volume of applications, as this was the primary strategy that I chose.

Application Results

Here are some stats on my job search from September 2018 through February 2019 (these may be slightly off as I didn’t track things as carefully toward the end of my search):

  • Total applications submitted: 115
  • Companies I went through at least 1 interview phase with: 13
  • Job offers: 4 (this includes the equity-only role I took in the fall as well as my TA role)

Let’s visualize that as a funnel for a second:

The “cast a wide net” approach I took meant there was a very dramatic narrowing after the application phase. This makes sense for a lot of reasons, but applying to a LOT of jobs was one of the reasons I was able to interview at a number of places.

Here are a couple more interesting data points from this whole application process:

  • Companies that explicitly rejected me: 68 — this means that the rest just never replied to my application
  • Companies from which I withdrew my application: 5

Reflections + Things I’ve Learned

I know that this was not necessarily the most strategic job application strategy.

At the end of the day, this was the best approach for me given my circumstances, but I definitely wouldn’t say it’s the best or even a good way to job hunt. This “wide net” approach — with the huge amount of time I spent filling out apps and the large number of rejections — definitely took a toll on my energy and my confidence over the course of several months. It would’ve been better to apply if I’d had an established network I could rely on.

It’s super common to submit an application, then never hear anything back.

About half of the companies I applied to totally ghosted me. A best practice for me was to submit a job application and then move on to the next one to avoid obsessing over a role I most likely wouldn’t hear back about.

I withdrew my application from a number of roles for a number of reasons.

Taking myself out of the running for jobs was painful because I wanted so badly to get a full-time developer job, but ultimately, I know that I made the right choice in all of these scenarios.

  • I withdrew from two jobs because of the way I was treated during the interview process (more on this in my post about interviews)
  • I withdrew from two jobs because the companies’ reviews on Glassdoor giving me major cause for concern about working for them (if you aren’t using Glassdoor to scope out companies you’re applying to, start doing so now — it may save you a lot of time and headaches)
  • I withdrew from one other job because I would’ve been traveling Monday-Thursday as an engineering consultant, essentially. If I were 8 years younger and had no commitments (husband, dog, etc.), I maybe would have considered it as an exciting opportunity

I had to make some decisions based on the tradeoffs I had decided I was willing and unwilling to make.

I turned down an offer for a 1-month contract “trial period” in a job that would’ve been an incredible fit — working on a platform that revolved around making literature accessible, working remotely, great pay — but I couldn’t afford not to have benefits for a month. Taking a role with no guarantee that it would last longer than the first month also seemed like a risky way to start my new career. Maybe this was imposter syndrome at work, but I felt it was important to go into this new field with some sense of stability.

The above two points bring me to my last reflection for this post: as an applicant and someone new to the field, it can feel like the companies/hiring managers hold all the power because they hold the key to the thing you want: a job. But you should be assessing fit, what you are willing to compromise on, and how you are treated throughout the process to determine if a workplace deserves you.

Based on my experience in previous jobs, I’d personally rather continue my search than hastily accept a job that treats me poorly or isn’t set up to support employee growth and retention while delivering on their product. I’ve learned to spot some warning signs of this in my time interviewing in both the tech field and in education — I would be happy to write more about that if there’s interest. At the end of the day, if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this process, there will always be another opportunity if the right one isn’t in front of you now.

More to come about the interviews I went on in my next post! Please feel free to share any constructive feedback on this post or questions you have for me about my job search.

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Full-Stack Developer and Educator

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