You just graduated with a Computer Science degree. Or finished the Web Development Immersive program at General Assembly, or another programming program (heh). Now what?
You need a job, naturally. But who’s gonna hire you?
It’s the typical conundrum for any recent grad in any field. Clients want you to have experience…and you’ve got none. How the f**k do you get experience without experience?
I encourage newbie coders to do at least a few freelance projects, especially early on in their career. Freelancing offers a wealth of opportunities to learn, grow and meet people. And equally importantly, it gives you a way to see what different work environments are like before you settle down (a la dating).
But I do understand that when you’re fresh out of school, it may be even harder to get freelance than it is to get a regular job.
More specifically – clients want credibility. They want to know you can get the job done, and be confident that you won’t waste their time or money. Experience is one indicator of that, but it’s not the only indicator.
Fake it till you make it…sort of.
The truth is, if you have gone to a school of some sort, you don’t have zero experience – you did something in school. Any projects you’ve done are a selling point. Use them, make them look impressive if you can.
In the meantime, work on getting that experience. And since you’re pretty new, you’ll want to take on projects that are really low risk. As many as possible – then build up to bigger ones.
Small projects are like bricks – you can add them together to make bigger things from them. If you’ve got 10 tiny projects on your resume, a client will be a lot more inclined to give you a bigger one then the guy with 2.
Fiverr and Upwork have an abundance of opportunities for freelance work. They won’t make you rich – especially Fiverr, which charges $5 per task typically (upwork has far higher price points, FYI). But use both of them to get a few easy projects you can show off.
You can also hit up local businesses to do their websites. Your sales pitch is this: every small business needs a website! If you’re online, people give you a lot more credibility and have a better chance of finding you (beyond just foot traffic). Plus, since you’re not a pro yet you can do it cheaply for them.
Do things, show them off
I put together a really simple paradigm for continually getting work (see: Get Hired Again and Again). It’s simple in concept: Do good stuff -> Show it off -> Repeat. Seems like nothing, but it really works.
“Do good stuff” means using your skills on projects, as we talked about above. Coding websites, or building whatever type of technical things you build.
“Show it off” means market yourself. In person at networking events and on your different projects, and online in every conceivable way – in your portfolio, on other people’s blogs and so on. (Seriously, read the full article.)
Those two pieces (build stuff, and show them off) are naturally the ones you keep getting better and better at though. And you do them in different proportions at different times, but you should always have a good balance.
Talk about it
When you’ve only got a little experience, you need to do all of this more – more building (those small projects on fiverr, upwork, etc) and more showing off (on your own portfolio website, Fiverr / Upwork portfolios, etc). If you do stuff on Upwork, don’t forget to ask the clients for reviews afterwards.
Make sure you have a personal website. This is not only good practice, but it’s experience to show off. Even if you built it using a bootstrap template and customized it, you still did work on it. Be honest if anyone asks, but if they don’t let them assume you did it. But make sure you impress them with your level of knowledge.
And don’t forget to put code on your Github profile. Forking repos and making open source contributions are great; personal projects of any kind are fantastic as well, no matter how small.
Post, post, post
All throughout your career, you should be learning new technologies and getting better at the ones you know (see: Keep Your Swords Sharp). Talk about it! It’s easy as pie to start a blog on wordpress.com or medium.com.
Writing technical blog posts shows what you know. Even if you’re just learning something, writing about the learning experience shows ambition and passion for the craft of coding. That drive is a big part of what clients look for in hires.
Also, any online community you belong to can help you show what you know, and link back to your portfolio. StackOverflow, Reddit, Quora, Hacker News. Anytime someone has a question you can answer, that’s a potential credibility point you just added to your online presence.
Network, network, network
If you’re not on LinkedIn, get on there and add anyone you know from the business world. Dress up your profile, link it back to your portfolio site. join some LinkedIn groups, and post there too.
Go to meetups in your city often. Meetup and Eventbrite are your best buds, and if your city has tech mailing lists join those too. Getting your face visible in the tech community is great for a bunch of reasons. You can not only learn from other people and meet other programers like you, but you can meet potential clients. And if someone likes you, but can’t hire you for whatever reason, they might know someone who can.
Have cheap business cards made up. VistaPrint has had low-cost options for decades. No one should expect them to be top notch since you’re new – but simply having one gives someone an easy way to contact you. And it makes you look a notch more professional than other recent grads.
Remember, there’s a trade off: in-person networking takes more time and reaches fewer people than online networking, but has a far greater impact since people can see you and get to know you. It’s easier to trust someone you can see face to face; anyone can fake an online identity.
Amp up the social skills
Not everyone is natively social, and that may be particularly true with programmers. (I sure as hell wasn’t, decades ago.) Many of us are natively technical, but not so natively social. This can be worked on though. Start with programming events, where the people there are more likely to be just like you. Ask them how they got their jobs, what technologies they’ve learned and so on. Then gradually step out of your comfort zone, and try meetups that are a little less technical.
Gradually your level of comfort will improve in some cases. Truthfully though, improving your social skills is a far bigger discussion than these two paragraphs; just know that it’s not only possible to make yourself more comfortable with networking, but it’s really really great for your career.