When applying for jobs, everyone says they are passionate about coding and development. As a developer and hiring manager, what I'm looking for is evidence of that passion.

This week, I took a look at multiple CVs from people who were switching careers and looking for their first developer job. I spent around 2-5 minutes per person before deciding if they would make the cut.

That's not a lot of time to impress a stranger! Here's a shortlist of things I looked for:

  • Regular commits on GitHub
  • Personalised projects
  • Evidence of good written communication

Regular commits on GitHub

What does your GitHub contribution history look like? If you are passionate about coding, then I assume you are coding regularly.

Once easy way to demonstrate this passion is to code publicly. Set up a repository on GitHub, learn about making atomic commits, and push them.

This gives employers a nice signal that you are coding every day, and that you really mean it when you say you are passionate about coding.

What I look for is a nice green chart. Let's look at this person's public contribution history on GitHub:

Example contribution history on GitHub

This person is coding publicly only during certain times of the year: November, December, March and July. I suspect these coincide with bootcamp projects, a.k.a. projects that were compulsory. When looking at candidates from the same bootcamp cohort, and every person has the same contribution graph, it's hard to stand out.

As an employer, it doesn't send a strong signal to me about passion. There are several months of the year which are empty.

This person may have been coding every day on her personal laptop, but as an employer, I have no way of seeing that and acknowledging that effort.

Let's look at another person's contribution history:

Almost daily contributions to GitHub

This person is making almost daily commits to GitHub. This is a very strong signal that she is interested in coding, and has been coding daily for the last twelve months.

This is fantastic, especially if she's not a coder by trade. I'd want to speak to this person and learn what she's been working on! Even if the bulk of her commits are text edits to a README.md file, it's still a great sign of commitment and consistency.

Personalised projects

Link to your projects, and make sure they shine!

Some ways to do this:

  • Put in real content
  • Inject it with your own personality. Find images that mean something to you.
  • Take pride in your work: it doesn't need to be beautifully designed - I'm looking for an engineer, not a visual designer. But there's a basic level of care: do things overlap? Is there enough white space? Does it work on mobile as well as web?

Common pitfalls I noticed:

  • No links to projects
  • Putting up a bootcamp project with no personality, or with lorem ipsum. When I have CVs from 20 graduates from the same bootcamp, this gets old very quickly. It doesn't affirm the "I'm passionate" aspect if you haven't bothered to personalise your portfolio.
  • Links to projects that no longer work. Make sure you get a friend to test it on a different device than yours.
  • Links to projects that require setup. Make it easy for us! Have a great README.md file with the details on how to set it up. Put in lots of screenshots, UX flows, sequence diagrams, and so on. Chances are an employer will point and click, but I'd say it's highly unlikely an employer will download your project. So the screenshots, UX flows, and so on will need to demonstrate what your project does.

Looking for some "good" vs "bad" examples? I don't want to pick on anybody's work, so here's an example of one of my projects, with no personality:

My drum machine project

Look familiar? It's my drum machine project from the freeCodeCamp curriculum. I haven't personalised it at all. And what's worse - there are thousands of other people who have done this project, and made it MUCH cooler! I would never tell an employer to visit this project as a sign of my passion.

A different project from the freeCodeCamp curriculum is the personal portfolio. I spent much more time personalising this project. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (it isn't responsive which really bugs me!), but it is uniquely mine.

My personal portfolio project

My portfolio also demonstrates another hidden pitfall listed above: links to broken projects. When I created this portfolio, my pomodoro timer looked beautiful.

What my pomodoro timer used to look like, with a nice background image

Fast forward a few years, and the stock image I was relying on is no longer available. So my live pomodoro timer looks a little on the sad side. It's not the end of the world, but it's definitely not putting my best foot forward. It tells employers that whilst I'm asking them to click on the link, I haven't bothered doing the same myself.

What my pomodoro timer looks like now - no images

Bottom line: if you tell an employer to click a link, then you should click it first and see if you're happy with it.

Evidence of good written communication skills

I would say that every tech job out there relies on written skills. There's the documentation in your code (although ideally your code is self-documenting). There's also Slack and pull requests as part of your every day job.

It's another easy dot point to include on CVs: "excellent communication skills". Every CV lists it. As an employer, I glaze over this point because it's difficult to assess through a CV.

However if you follow up this assertion with links to some well structured README.md files on GitHub, or online articles you authored, or your personal blog, then bingo!

As an employer, I'll definitely click on those links. They help me gauge what your personality is like, your communication style, the amount of detail and effort you put into structuring your thoughts, and so much more.

Below is an example of a rubbish README.md file of mine. I haven't put any effort into this file, so I wouldn't link to this project in my CV without first updating the README.md file.

However I would definitely put a link to some tutorials I've written on freeCodeCamp.

Wrapping up

As a career switcher, it can feel daunting to find your first dev job. Please stick with it! You bring a raft of transferrable skills with you.

I hope this article shows you it's within your own control to create a CV that stands out from the crowd, shows off your unique personality, and helps you land that first job.