Hi all – it’s been a little bit of time since I’ve put together my thoughts, but I wanted to go over something I’ve discussed before in a bit more detail. It’s a question I get all the time, and it’s fundamental for a junior developer to understand when looking for a new role – but as a junior, how do you stand out from the crowd? I appreciate this is a pretty big topic, so by no means will I cover all elements of this, but there are definitely some things worth thinking about.
Firstly, let’s appreciate that there are an absolute ton of junior developers looking for a new role at the moment. The other side of that is the sad reality that there aren’t many junior roles available either. The way most tech teams are building top-heavy pyramids of senior-to-junior means that fact won’t change any time soon either. For any junior role, even at lesser-known companies, you can be expecting a decent number of applications – just looking at “junior front-end developer” under LinkedIn jobs shows at least 15 applicants for the top 5 roles there, with a couple reaching over 40. How can you make sure that you’re setting yourself up as the pick of the bunch when, chances are, you all have quite similar skill levels?
So, as I say, if you and the rest of the applicants are going to have similar skill-set and experience levels, what’s going to be the game-changer in your application? Well, if it’s not aptitude, it’s going to be attitude. Now attitude isn’t just about being a nice guy/gal, it’s about curiosity, enthusiasm and motivation. When a team hires a junior, they know they’re not hiring a hot-shot who will finish every task with aplomb. What they are looking for, however, is someone who looks at a task and attempts to solve it head-on, try different methods and see if they make any headway. If you’ve had a crack and not getting anywhere, then sure, ask for some help – but they’ll want someone who’s trying to progress themselves on a daily basis. You’ll need to combine that motivation with curiosity too – a junior should be looking at new ways of different things, looking outside-the-box before they’re too set in their way of doing things. Having someone regularly look at new ideas and fresh approaches keeps a team on their toes and constantly innovating.
Okay, so if you’re reading this and thinking ‘I’m not a natural innovator, I just like to code’, then that’s cool too. Coding is more than just doing though, it’s thinking about ‘what do I need to do?’ So how can you get those ideas? Well, one of the great things about the tech industry is that there’s no shortage of helpful resources for anyone looking to learn. Anything from courses, mentors or meet-ups can help get those cogs whirring and looking into new things. Even if it’s just copying a sample bit of code from a conference and seeing what else can be done with the ideas is the sort of thing a team would look for. I think applying the things you’ve learned or seen elsewhere look really great on a CV. Your Github link doesn’t have to have a mass of amazing side-projects; some people have families, other commitments and the like, and don’t necessarily have the time to spend all their time coding – but looking at an example problem and seeing what can be done to tackle it, even if brief, looks amazing. I’m always amazed if I mention something I’ve seen at a meet-up or a recent talk I watched, and a junior developer says they were there, or they watched it and studied it. It shows that real motivation and curiosity I mentioned earlier – to be able to look at the tech you’re using and say ‘what more can I do with this?’
Lastly, I would say that at a junior level, don’t be worried about right or wrong answers. The most important thing is to show how you do things – it’s all well and good to hit the end result, but showing how you prioritise, looking at a problem holistically and what can be done to improve each piece of the puzzle is what makes a software developer, not just finding the right answer – much like showing your workings in a maths exam. I always suggest in technical portions of interviews to think out-loud so the team can see how you’re thinking – even if you get the question wrong, they may be more impressed with your approach.
I’ll sign off this blog with an anecdote; a hiring manager once told me how they interviewed a junior developer about a role. He asked them a question about loops; they apologised and said they couldn’t answer and the two of them carried on the interview as normal. When the hiring manager checked their emails later that evening, they’d received an email from that junior developer with a full, complete example going over what they couldn’t previously answer. The hiring manager pretty much hired them on the spot after that. The combination of curiosity of hearing something they didn’t know, enthusiasm to learn a new thing and motivation to put that into practice is everything a hiring manager looks for.
Written by Jack Prior, Front-End Consultant