Last week, I attended an event at MailChimp called MailChimp Gives (Feed)back! The company offered career counseling and mock interviews along with open-to-the-public panels on career searches, interviewing, whiteboard/technical questions, and even group exercises. I was lucky enough to get both a half hour career counseling session and a mock interview. It was really informative and I learned a lot from my experience there. The entire event was so well put together; there was delicious food (always a plus!), the panels were very well done, and I got a lot of great feedback and tips on breaking into tech and the road to becoming a junior front-end developer. (In case you weren’t aware, that’s my goal for the near future!) Would 100% do again in the future. It’s so amazing that companies like MailChimp offer services like this to the community; everything was free, all I had to do was sign up and tell them a little about myself and my goals.
Here are some things I got out of my time there: both specific to junior front-end development careers and also broad tech-related careers. Hope some of this helps you guys as much as it helped me!
- Don’t be afraid to put your non-technical jobs on your resume. For those who have never had a technical job, writing a resume for a technical one might seem daunting. How much of your past job experience do you really want to put on there? On one hand, past jobs might not seem related, but on the other hand, you do want potential employers to know that you have professional experience, even if it’s not in the technical sense. The solution? Definitely add past job experiences, technical or not. Just curate it to the job you’re applying to. Even if it’s not full of technical experience, you can still highlight a lot of your other skills that may be relevant to the job. Stuff like your ability to communicate well with others, work on a team, take leadership roles, etc. Those skills are important too!
- Keep your resume to one page, if possible. Nobody wants to read pages upon pages of stuff. Two pages is okay, but one page is the best. If you have a lot of information you want to convey? Consider using columns! Be unique with the space; you’ll be surprised by how much you can do with just one page. (As a side, but kind of related note, playing with colors and typography is good too; don’t get too flashy, but you want something that pops and looks great. Try to always save your resume as a PDF. That will lock in all the formatting and styles that you use, and you won’t run into issues of different computers displaying things differently.)
- Put your projects on your resume. This is probably one of the biggest tips I received during this event. Before this event, I assumed that because I have a portfolio, potential employers would know everything I’d been working on. Yeah, but… only if they decide to go to your portfolio! Many will, but you have a significantly higher chance of getting noticed if you also list the things you’ve worked on in your resume as well. It doesn’t have to be big projects, it can be little things that you’ve written. It also doesn’t have to be detailed either, especially if you have an online portfolio. Your portfolio will add more details and descriptions to your projects, but you want something that will draw potential employers in. This is especially important if you don’t have a lot of professional technical experience!
- Put courses on your resume too. “Even things like Coursera or CodeSchool?” Yes! Add a “Continued Education” section and put everything in there. I was a little hesitant at first, because generally you think that “education” means a school or bootcamp. How seriously would someone take you if you put down some free, online exercises you did? Quite seriously, actually! I was told by one of MailChimp’s recruiters that it’s still good to have that kind of stuff on there. It shows that you’re actively doing things and interested in learning.
- Do. More. Projects. Seriously. Big projects, little projects… doesn’t really matter. You can even play around with tiny bits of code on CodePen. Get a CodePen account, get a GitHub or GitLab account. Play around with things; they don’t have to be full on applications or pages. They can be as small as “today I used CodePen to create a few boxes to play around with FlexBox.” It shows that you’re curious.
- Work on one big project. Little CodePens and tiny apps are great, but it’s good to have one big application under your belt as well. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an application, it doesn’t even need to be that advanced or anything you end up publishing, but find something that you’re struggling with in your daily life and use your knowledge of technology to solve that problem. It shows that you’re a good problem solver, and it’s a good way to display your ability to write functional code. My career coach told me about how he’d created a small customizable grocery list for his family to use.
- Collaborate. I think one of the biggest pits aspiring junior developers fall into is that they’re so focused on personal projects that they don’t really have any experience working with others or if you’re able to read others’ codes or documentations and know what to do with them. It’s great that you can write a little app that shows the weather or that tweets random quotes, but that doesn’t really show how you’d work on an existing application with many different people. If you can find a way to show that you’ve been collaborating on an existing application and how you can work together to edit or improve existing code, that will bring you one step above the other applicants. Open Source projects are great for this.
- Whiteboard exercises and technical questions don’t always expect the perfect answer. Before this experience, I had never had a technical interview question, and the idea of standing up at a whiteboard trying to solve a problem in front of potential interviews scared me shitless. What I’ve learned, however, that it’s less about the solution you come up with, and more about your thought process and the way you go about figuring out a problem. Don’t be silently trying to solve the problem on your own, talk to your interviewers. Make it a conversation, let them know how you’re thinking, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions as well. They’re not asking this question to watch you flounder and flail and eventually crash and burn, they’re asking because they want to see how you think critically. And more often than not, they’ll be willing to help you out or give you tips and point you in the right direction. If they know what you’re thinking. If you’re just standing there silently trying to figure it out in your head, they won’t know what you’re struggling with. At the end of the day, the process is worth a whole lot more than the actual result. (And it’s perfectly okay to admit what you don’t know! But it’s way better to admit that you don’t know and then offer up what you think the solution could be than to just shrug, say “I don’t know”, and then silently stare at them until they ask the next question.)
That’s some of the stuff I learned from my experience at MailChimp Gives (Feed)back. Let me know if you have any other tips, or if you found any of these helpful!