This is part 2 of 2. In this part I will cover strategies that make you more compelling if you're worried about how your previous career will look when you interview for dev roles.
In part 1 I covered the big advantages that having one or more previous careers offers when you switch to a career in dev.
Practice, persistence and deliberate improvement helps us get better at anything, no exceptions. The same applies for becoming highly effective at our work. I firmly believe that people who change careers may have a harder time moving into their new domain, but have better odds at succeeding at the new domain. I also believe that cataloguing your transferable skills and feeling confident that they are transferable and relevant to your new domain is hugely persuasive to hiring managers.
Make yourself compelling by removing all their objections.
At the end of the day, when you're interviewing for roles, your job is to make yourself seem like the obvious choice. You do this by anticipating and removing any objections that the hiring manager may have to hiring you - so you need to have all the abilities of the other applicants, and then communicate your own abilities on top.
Here are the strategies that I've personally observed and directly used in my own careers over the years. I encourage you to think deeply about them and incorporate them into your approach.
Experience helps you focus
The more experience you have, the more likely you are to have clarity into your own temperament, interests, skills and preferences. We tend to ignore or overlook these things when looking for work. I understand that if you're desperate for a job and running out of options, then you do not have the luxury of being picky. But many of us have not been targeted because not because of urgency but because we assume a scatter-gun approach is better. It's not. Being targeted increases your success rate, your effectiveness and your overall job satisfaction.
Also, being able to be clear on why you want that specific role goes a very long way in convincing the hiring manager that you're the right person for the job. As a hiring manager I only interview people with the required technical skills. I choose on the basis of their fitness for the role, which includes the clarity the candidate has about the role itself, and why they think they would enjoy the role. Use your experience to be clear on why you want the job, and let this clarity shine through in your cover letters, interviews and conversations.
Experience helps you play to your strengths
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and successful invest more in developing their strengths than weaknesses. This is because you need to be outstanding only in a few things to be an outstanding contributor. So you might as well develop things that you're already good at, and aim to be outstanding.
Having previous experience in other roles helps career changers understand their strengths, contextualise why those strengths matter in a target role, and articulate those reasons in a way that makes sense to the hiring manager. By mapping your strengths to a role and the organisation's needs you automatically show that you've put a great deal more thought into how you can help the organisation achieve its goals. After all they're hiring you not so you can have a job, but so that the company can achieve its goals. Show them that you have strengths that will help them do that, and you're already ahead of the competition who just talk about their strengths without mapping them to the organisation's goals.
Tell a better story
The benefit of having multiple perspectives on business and roles is that you become a better story teller. By story I don't mean cooking up things - I mean telling yours story better. Weaving a narrative on your choices is a powerful opportunity - career changers can be mysterious and confusing to others, because most people don't have the interest, courage or freedom to change careers and sometimes this causes confusion as to whether you're serious or just flighty. If you have a powerful story, you can excite and inspire the hiring manager, and show that you're different, courageous, focused, dedicated, and willing to take chances on yourself. These are very desirable qualities in an employee. You want to show how there is a clear and compelling logic to your decisions even if it doesn't look like that from the outside looking in. The way to do that is by telling powerful stories that show how your unusual experience, mindset, interests and strengths combined in unique ways to bring you to the present day. A good story also shows self-awareness which is fast becoming a critical skill in the workplace, and in modern teams.
Demonstrate business acumen
As you prepare for interviews for dev roles, use your previous experience to guide your research into the role and the target company. Understand its business context, not just the engineering set-up. Then show how the role will achieve the broader business goals. No one hires a developer just so they can have software. The software is is a part of the product, and the product is part of business strategy, and the strategy is part of the business goals, and the goals are a function of perceived and actual market needs, and the market's needs are linked to the economy and so on. See the big picture, understand where you fit in a smaller picture, and show how you understand the importance of your work for the business. That will set you miles ahead of developers who only talk about CI/CD as an essential part of the modern software development workflow without understanding why the company should care. If you can explain why the company should care about what you do, you're more likely to get better funding too.
Experience makes you a better team player
While this is true for all experience, having diverse experiences shows that you're adaptable. Being adaptable is critical in being able to fit in, and work effectively with, teams. Being a better team player solves a huge risk for employers - a lot of productivity is lost when people don't gel well, or collaborate well. And this is not just true within the functional team, but across functions throughout the organisation. Career changes have a naturally broader intuition about the expanded nature of "teams" in the modern workplace. Communicate this, and you will set the interviewer's mind at ease.
Experience makes you understand the hiring manager's needs
By having experienced different roles and contexts before, you actually know a lot more than you realise. You already have a sense of what makes people effective in their roles - from your own direct performance and those of others in your team. Now all you got to do is ask yourself why those skills or behaviours mattered to your previous bosses. You will start to see a pattern, and this pattern is the clue to understanding what your interviewer is probably going to look for, perhaps subconsciously. Showing that you have maturity and experience to see this makes you stand out as a leader, and clued-in candidate. You get it. Show that you "get it" and you will stand out among the applicants.
On practicing with rejection
No one likes to be rejected. But no matter what you do, the odds are that you will be rejected more often than you succeed. And that's OK because you only need one acceptance at a time, and all rejections fade away. But the learnings from those rejections are hugely valuable - provided you take the time to investigate the reasons, understand and internalise them, and clearly commit to making small or big changes necessary to ensure you grow from the rejection. You should never be rejected for the same reason twice, or you're just wasting your energy doing the same thing , and expecting different results. To get better, turn each rejection into a lesson, and that way you will accumulate the skills to be an excellent interviewee. Often less capable candidates beat the others to get a role because they understand what the hiring manager is looking for, and communicate what matters.
So good luck, and remember to use your previous experience as an advantage!
Postscript For FreeCodeCamp students
I really, truly believe your most precious resources are your time, effort and money. Of these, the single most important resource is time, because the other two can be renewed and recovered. So if you’re going to spend time on something make sure it gets you closer to this goal.
With that in mind, if you want to invest 3 hours with me to find your shortest path to learning to code (especially if you’re a career changer, like me...), then head to my course site and use the form there sign up (not the popup!). If you add the words “FREE MY TIME” to the message, I will know you’re a freeCodeCamp reader, and I will send you a promo code, because just like you, freeCodeCamp gave me a solid start.
Also if you would like to learn more, check out episode 53 of the freeCodeCamp podcast, where Quincy (founder of FreeCodeCamp) and I share our experiences as career changes that may help you on your journey. You can also access the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
I can be contacted on Twitter: @ZubinPratap