Job application flow

This is part 2 in the ‘job hunting’ series. Check out ‘Things to do before starting your job search‘.

Getting a job after graduating from your bootcamp is part luck, part skill, and 100% concentrated power of will mostly a numbers game. You can polish your personal portfolio until it sparkles, but you can’t stop companies from seeing ‘attended coding bootcamp…’ on your resume and instantly place it in the discard pile.

The process is a grind. It can take hundreds of applications and months of waiting before you land a suitable gig at a company worth working for. The monotonous process is magnified tenfold by the fact that you just spent 12 weeks learning exciting and novel things every day, and now you’re copying and pasting the same cover letter into job application templates.

To get through these next few months without losing your mind, I’m sharing the routine that I followed. It involves sending applications, following up on leads, and enhancing your programming skills.

To save yourself some time in the long run, make sure to read ‘Things to do before starting your job search‘.

The unemployed life is super comfortable – roll out of bed at whatever time is most convenient, check your emails, browse Facebook while sipping coffee. It’s a wonderful lifestyle for those who want to stay unemployed.

Bank hours

Be active during business hours. You want to be prompt in your responses to companies. If they email you at 9 AM asking for interview availability, get a time slot as soon as possible. I’ve seen people put off requests for a few hours, and when they finally replied, the company had filled its interviewee quota. You don’t need to wait an adequate amount of time before replying to their messages, this isn’t Tinder.

Job Applications

As a bootcamp graduate, you will send literally hundreds of applications before getting an acceptable offer. The process is most definitely a numbers game, and you’re competing with the classmates sitting next to you as well as the graduates from the bootcamp across the street.

Your resume, your portfolio, your cover letter – no matter how much work you put into these items, you still look more or less like every other bootcamp grad out there. They’ll receive a hundred identical applications each day and randomly pick five for interviews. By applying to as many places as possible, you’re increasing your chances of being in those five applications selected for a phone conversation.

Set a number and try to hit it every day. Find companies on your job board of choice (Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn are good ones to get started), and attach a copy of your resume. Five a day is easy mode; ten is hard – but doable.

I found it easiest to knock this out early in the morning. I filled out as many job forms as I could stand; as soon as I felt the fatigue of job applications, I moved on to…

Coding Challenges

As a junior developer, companies will often want you to dedicate 5+ hours on a coding assignment before a hiring manager will even speak to you. It’s a flawed and aggravating system, but we’re in no position to change it. You’ll usually be tasked with implementing one of the company’s API services or building a data structure.

These code challenges are not only a way for the company to evaluate whether or not you’re an asset worth spending engineering time on; it’s also a great opportunity for you to think about how much interest you have in the company. Before accepting the code challenge, take a look at the company’s Glassdoor profile. If you have multiple coding challenges from more promising companies, feel free to turn down the ones you’re not interested in. Do it politely:

It was wonderful speaking to you today and learning about the engineering position at <company here>. I’m extremely impressed with how <company> is <whatever company is doing>. I wish I had time to complete this coding challenge, but I’m preparing for final interviews with a few other companies and I’m afraid my timeline might be too short to go through the screening process at <company>.

Many companies will say “good luck” and move on to the next chump, but I have had a few companies call me within 30 minutes of sending that email with an interview invitation. Extremely YMMV; don’t play this card on a company you’re actually interested in.

When you’re doing a coding challenge, use clues from your telephone conversation to figure out what’s most important. Did the recruiter mention TDD four times in the phone call? Might be a good idea to write some tests. Is it a front-end job at a media company? Better have solid CSS. Once you’ve committed, don’t half ass a coding challenge – you’re already spending the time on it, might as well take the extra few hours to make it stand out.

Continuing improvement

Software engineers need a deep knowledge of algorithms and computer science concepts to pass the ever-so-common 5-hour whiteboarding interviews. If you’re set on a career at a big 5 tech firm (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook), dedicate several hours each day to computer science. Learn all of the concepts covered in Cracking the Coding Interview, practice Leetcode problems every day. Grab a few classmates and quiz each other on a whiteboard. Check out this post for some computer science concepts not covered at a coding bootcamp.

Web developers should spend more time learning the nuances of their language-of-choice and pros/cons of emerging web technologies. If you love the web and want a career as a developer, learn the in’s and out’s of hot technologies. At the time of writing, this means becoming a master of React and understanding why it’s better than Angular or Backbone. Practice with SASS. If you’re a Rails developer, learn Node. If you’re a Node developer, learn Rails! Employers love to ask about what you’ve worked on lately, and “job applications” is not the correct answer.

If you are not confident about anything covered during the bootcamp curriculum, go review it (many people have forgotten SQL by this point. Did you?)

A stunning portfolio

Continue building projects. When an employer opens up a bootcamp grad’s profile, they see a fullstack CRUD project and a javascript application. Look around your classroom, the instructors copied and pasted 50 identical students with identical portfolios. You could spend the extra time polishing your fullstack project, but you hit the point of diminishing returns very quickly.

Set aside two hours each day to work on something new – try to combine your passion with popular tech. If you’re considering a frontend role at a company with lots of big data applications, build something beautiful using D3.js. If you’re applying to a lot of backend jobs, find some publicly available data and turn it into a clever API. As always, these projects should have good styling and a strong readme.

While you’re working on these projects, commit your code frequently to Github. Collect those green squares. Recruiters may not know how to judge code quality, but they can tell who’s been rigorously polishing their portfolio.

But my watch only has 24 hours…

Start with a template like this every day:

9:00 AM – Start working on applications. Your goal is 10 completed applications by lunchtime.
12:00 PM – Eat lunch, take a walk, work out if you’re into that stuff.
1:30 PM – 3:30 PM – Algorithm & whiteboarding practice. Schedule a few mock interviews with classmates and friends.
3:30 – 7:30 PM – Work on code challenges or personal projects

When you reach the point where interviews eat up most of your day, feel free to shift things around. But at that point, you won’t need this guide much longer, anyways. 🙂

Stop applying to jobs on weekends and holidays, but follow approximately the same schedule.

Still no results?

If you’ve been searching for 3+ months and haven’t generated any interest, think about a few issues…

  1. It’s you. Go look at your resume / github / website. Compare it to your classmates’. If you still have no idea what’s wrong, send it to me. I’ll let you know where to focus your time.
  2. It’s the market. Maybe it’s time to leave New Mexico and move to SF or NY for more job opportunities?


Don’t burn out

Seriously, don’t. There will be so many occasions where the process feels hopeless. But these coding bootcamps exist because it’s a proven model – grads get jobs.

You will have loud classmates announcing their interview success to the world. You will see people disappear as they begin their new careers. You will get dozens of rejection calls and emails. Worst of all, you will watch as the next group of students graduate from the bootcamp and directly compete with you for positions.

Take a few hours off each day, hit the gym, grab a drink. Just don’t get too relaxed. After all – you’re still unemployed.

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