by Anthony Sistilli

How to get a tech job with no previous work experience

There are many doors to success — it’s about going through the door that fits for you.

I run a free community called the Forge where I help students navigate the world of tech recruiting.

One of the biggest fears most students have is the idea of finding a good job with no previous work experience.

Applying online can sometimes feel like you’re throwing your résumé into a black hole.

The good news is, there are ways to make your résumé stand out without having any work experience at all.

In this article, I’m going to show you 5 methods to get a tech job with no previous work experience! (Click here if you prefer video)

P.S. — You won’t automatically get a job if you do these 5 things… You still have to kill it in the interview. But it WILL help your application stand out regardless of your past experience.

Competitive Programming

If you’re not familiar with competitive programming, it involves solving data structures and algorithm problems in competitions (and for fun).

The questions you solve are the same type of questions you would expect to find during a tech interview.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

“Why would I ever want to do fake interviews in my spare time, and how would I even put that on my résumé?”

1. Recruiters hold competitive programming in very high regard.

Competitive programming can give you great practice.

Showing that you’ve competed in local and national competitions like NAIPC and ICPC is a huge plus.

Recruiters scout online sites like TopCoder and Kattis to find high ranking students from different universities.

Ranking highly in competitions is a great asset, but even getting involved can get your foot through the door.

2. It’s great practice for actual interviews

Take some of the burden off preparing for interviews since you’ve already done a lot of preparation.

Participating and practicing for competitive programming competitions is like doing daily mock interviews.

There’s no doubt that when you actually get that interview, you’ll be able to kill it!

Check and see if your local university has a competitive programming club or team and join it!

Resources to get started

Hackerrank: Online practicing platform

Leetcode: Online practicing platform

Kattis: Online practicing platform with university and state rankings

TopCoder: Online practicing platform with global rankings

NAIPC: North American competition

My video on how to get started with Competitive Programming



Don’t skip this section.

You’re probably thinking:

I already go to tons of Hackathons so I’m alright!

I’ve talked to a lot of tech recruiters in the past few months, and they all say the same thing.

Just going to a bunch of Hackathons and coming out with random projects isn’t enough anymore.

Why? Because everyone is doing it.

Having a winning résumé is all about differentiating yourself.

There’s nothing special about going to a Hackathon and making a hacky project anymore.

Everyone’s done it.

There are 3 ways to use Hackathons to your advantage.

1. Continue your project!

Recruiters love this.

  • You’re showing you can code with a team for a long period of time
  • You’re showing that you can handle an application that has a real user base that requires updates and bug fixes
  • You’re showing that you can be passionate enough about a project to dedicate a large amount of personal time to it

Do these attributes sound familiar?

It should, because these are all the traits a great employee has!

Remember, recruiters are always looking for skills showing that you’ll excel once you get the job.

2. If you win a sponsor’s prize, they’ll often interview you

Okay, winning is pretty tough.

But if you happen to make a solid project and you do end up winning, you’ll likely get interviewed by the sponsoring company.

3. Networking

Companies sponsor Hackathons to get their name known and to find the hottest newest talent.

Bring a couple résumés, and use that opportunity to talk to recruiters and build a genuine relationship with them.

What is it like working at that company?

Does the culture fit your personality?

Can you see yourself working there as a full-time employee?

You’re considering a company as much as they’re considering you. Use this as an opportunity to find companies you’re genuinely interested in working for.

Resources to get started

Here are three websites to find upcoming hackathons:

Bonus: Grace Hopper Tech conference — a great place for women in tech to network with recruiters and find a job!

Research Assistant

Being an undergraduate research assistant is an opportunity to explore a field of study you’re interested in while learning from an expert in the field.

Most students approach the situation in a very wrong way.

They contact a professor and making it clear they’re only interested in something to boost their résumé.

Be genuine!

I can’t stress that enough.

Do some research about professors at your university.

What field are they in?

What work have they done?

Is that something that interests you?

One of the best approaches is to read one of their papers online, and ask to discuss it with them in person.

In person, you can express your excitement for their field and approach the topic of getting involved.

No paid positions? Volunteer work is better than nothing. Especially if you enjoy the topic.

In my case, I volunteered for 4 months which got me an 8 month paid research term.

Don’t let the stress of finding a job put you in a position where you’re not genuine or doing what interests you. Professors can see right through that, and that’s why most students fail to get a research position.

Open Source Projects

If you contribute a lot to recognized open source projects, expect a lot of recruitment emails.

Contributing to open source projects gives you the chance to showcase all the skills that makes an engineer great in the workplace.

  • Teamwork and communication
  • Production of reliable and user-ready code
  • Ability to jump into unknown territory, adapt, and make a positive impact
  • Advanced knowledge of the framework or library that you’re contributing to

Is Google looking for a React developer?

Their first stop is React’s GitHub page to find the contributors.

Who would know a library better than those who helped author it?

It can seem quite daunting at first, especially if you’re a beginner. The good news is there are tons of resources out there to help you navigate the world of open source contribution!

Resources to get started

GitHub: the home of most open source projects

FirstTimersOnly: a comprehensive guide on how to contribute to your first open source project

UpForGrabs: a list of open source projects that currently need contributors

“How can I find a good open source project to join?”

“What are the ways to find a good open source project?”

LinkedIn & Networking

Chances are, if you had a giant network in the tech industry, you would already have a job!

Internal referrals are the most powerful type of applications, and having a giant network makes it easy to get referrals.

There are a lot of students that love to copy and paste 3 paragraphs about themselves, along with their résumé, to every recruiter they find on LinkedIn.

That is how to NOT get a job.

I have a specific method on LinkedIn that I use to reach out to recruiters for the Forge that can work for you too.

Send them a connection request and a message politely asking if they would be open to answering 1–2 questions about what it’s like to work at their company.

Recruiters are usually happy to answer a couple of honest questions when it concerns their place of work.

Like before:

Use this opportunity to talk to recruiters and build a genuine relationship with them.

If things go well online, you could even invite them to grab a coffee after work and learn more about their story.

If they like you, ask them if they think you would be a good fit for their company. You can even ask if they would feel comfortable submitting your résumé internally.

Make sure you’re genuinely interested in the company you’re inquiring about and whether you would be a good fit for each other!

There are many paths to the same destination

If you only take one thing away from this article, take this away:

There are many different ways to achieve any one goal.

Never feel like you’re not good enough because of what someone else might have on their résumé.

Carve your own space in the world and never let someone else’s experiences take away from your own.

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We’re a free community that helps students navigate the tech recruitment world.