Most of our students attend The Iron Yard because they want to begin a new career in software development. At every one of our campuses, we design our curriculum and our career support program to help them do just that. Though we begin career-related field trips, mock interviews and job talks early in each cohort, it’s usually about 8 or 9 weeks into each 12-week immersive course when I really see the students shift into high gear and begin thinking about interviewing for their new careers in the tech world.
One of the best parts of my job is working one-on-one with students as they get close to graduation and begin prepping for that first interview. During those conversations, many of the same questions come up: How should a recent grad prepare for interviews in the tech world? How should I talk about my education if my interviewer is not familiar with code schools at all? And the big one: How can I make sure I stand out from the other applicants and land the job?
There are some foundational interviewing tips that are helpful and expected, no matter what industry you’re going into. Things like starting early by interacting with companies you love through informational interviews, doing tons of research, reaching out to your network and dressing the part should be a given. Our students have had success connecting with Iron Yard alumni for advice about specific companies and opportunities. There’s something about having gone through this experience that connects our alumni in a unique way, and I find that alumni are always willing to help new students. Oh, and as far as dressing the part? Many tech companies don’t require a suit during the interview, but it is better to dress up rather than dress down. Checking photos on the company’s website can help point you in the right direction.
Speaking of tech companies, preparing for an interview with a tech company also comes with some pretty basic principles: things like tidying up your GitHub account and prepping for technical tests are fairly common and provide easy opportunities to showcase your hard work and technical skill level. Our Back-End Engineering instructor, Gavin Stark, recommends practicing solving problems using exercism.io.
So, those reminders can be helpful when preparing for a tech interview. But what about the tougher questions? Let’s tackle a couple of those:
Some interviewers may not be familiar with the code school concept or the skills graduates gain, particularly if they are based in cities without many schools. If that is the case, the interviewer is likely interested in understanding what you learned and how you refined your skills in such a short period of time. They might even be skeptical of the results because immersive code schools are still very new. Don’t worry though, you are capable to be a professional developer and you simply need to show that to them. Be prepared to highlight the value you will bring to their organization as a developer with these three tips:
1. Be transparent. What you accomplish in a code school in three months is similar to what you might accomplish in other educational environments in twelve to eighteen months - that’s why we call our courses immersive. By the time our students graduate, they have gained the practical experience to become at least a junior-level developer. Be honest with the interviewer about your level of competency, but instill confidence in them that you now think and problem solve like a developer. Offer specific examples of things you learned, both foundational programming principles and problem-solving skills as well as specific things you accomplished during the program. (Talking about a specific project then sending them a link to the Github repo can be very convincing.)
2. Share your story. Why did you decide to study programming? Are you looking for a rewarding career that is constantly changing (allowing you to be challenged and continuously learn)? Do you enjoy solving problems and crafting beautiful experiences on the web? Let your interviewer know why you felt code school was the right path for you and how dedicated you are to the craft. You may find that you share a connection or commonalities you weren’t expecting. A passion for solving problems with technology is not only common ground, but very attractive to employers.
3. Be confident. You graduated for a reason; because we believe you are ready to enter the developer world with the skill level of a junior developer. Believe in yourself and be confident in your abilities.
There are going to be tons of applicants who all want the job you’re going for. And some of those people might end up standing out...for the wrong reasons. Let’s talk about how to get the offer instead.
1. Perfect your portfolio. This may seem self-explanatory, but your portfolio can be a helpful (or harmful) window into who you are as a developer and a person. Once you have created your first portfolio, ask for feedback often and keep working on it. A few best practices to keep in mind:
a. Clean, simple design that incorporates vibrant colors that are aesthetically pleasing. If you need help with design, your Campus Director can help you find the resources you need.
b. Easy-to-find contact information. This is one of the biggest mistakes we see. Make it easy for people to contact you.
c. Personality - your portfolio should reflect your personal style. Remember to tell your story—interviewers want to get to know you as a person and are almost always thinking about cultural fit.
d. Mobile friendly - many people look at your portfolio on their phone. If your site looks bad or doesn’t function well on mobile devices, it can give people a negative first impression.
e. High-quality work with clean code. This goes without saying, but we’re going to say it because it’s that important. When you put together your portfolio with example work, make sure each example you choose showcases your very best work.
2. Start (or continue) to blog! Having a well-established blog where you share about the experience of learning to code and the detail of technical problems that you solve can give potential employers a glimpse into who you are and how your brain works.
3. Ask awesome, hard questions. Employers want to see you think critically about their business, their audiences and their values. Inquire about their development process, tools they use and any programming principles that are core to the way they do work. Make it a point to talk to your interviewer about why they love working there, what makes them tick and why the work their company does is important. Interest and passion are often the ingredients of great employees and can often be the key to getting an offer over someone else.
At the end of the day, my number one piece of advice is this: Go for the right job. While I encourage our grads to apply for a variety of positions, I don’t mean they should settle for just anything. Find a position or a company that would be a great fit for your specific skill set and interests. Don’t force it. Remember - interviews go both ways: You are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you! Both will benefit from finding the right fit.