by Aleks Gorbenko

Lessons From My Post-bootcamp Job Search in London

Coding bootcamps are hard. And finding the job after one is often even harder.

After I finished a coding bootcamp, I spent a total of 3 months looking for a position. I eventually found one here in London.

I blogged about the entire experience. But after reading Felix Feng’s overview of his post-bootcamp job search, I decided to write this single article summarizing the main things I learned from this process.

First of all — I did online bootcamp — Boston-based The Firehose Project — while I was in London. This meant I missed out on two big things in-person bootcamps often offer to make the job hunt easier:

  1. “graduation day” where employers are coming to the campus and pick the graduates for Junior positions.
  2. A dedicated careers department that helps place students in their first roles.

I did receive training and support from my mentor, who was also based in London, and from the founders of The Firehose Project. But as you can imagine, things that work in US might not work in UK.

A Little Boost To Get You Going

Sometimes it is hard to start anything. A project, a book, a job search. There’s a great book that can help you fight any resistance you may feel to getting started.

This little book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield will put you in a right mindset from the get-go. It is short and can be read in one day easily. I read it while I was still in the bootcamp, but the effect kept on for much longer.

So if you are looking for a little push before you start looking for a job — give this book a go.

The Six Biggest Take-aways From my 3-month Job Hunt Rollercoaster

Lesson #1: Don’t Waste Your Time on Job Boards

Don’t spend your time applying on the most popular job boards. There are recruiters behind and I have received only 2–3 calls from 100+ of my applications via the job board, which led to nowhere.

At some point, I tried to attach a cover letter to these applications. It made absolutely no difference, so I stopped doing that, too.

Instead, it was better to look for job postings that come directly from employers, such as the careers sections of companies’ websites, or job boards where recruiters are less likely to appear, such as Unicorn Hunt and Escape the City.

Lesson #2: Minimize the Time You Spend Talking to Recruiters

At first, I thought I had to sell myself to the recruiters. So when they asked me about my situation, I told them my whole story: how I moved from SEO to programming, finished a bootcamp, worked on a group project, etc. This was a mistake.

Most of the recruiters that call you won’t be know Java from JavaScript. They’ll have no idea what Model-View-Controller is, no idea about Ruby gems, REST, or Continuous Integration. They’ll just have the names and acronyms on a screen in front of them, and need someone who has experience with these.

All they want to know is whether you fit their criteria. And some housekeeping questions.

After a while, I started to respond to them totally differently which saved a lot of my time in return. I made a little script of what I say on the first call after a usual question “what’s your current situation?”:

“Yes, I am in the market. I am looking for permanent, full-time [Front-end, Back-end, Full Stack] Junior Dev position ideally in the Central CITY_NAME.
I am based in PLACE_NAME and I don’t want to travel more than X hours one way. I have experience in LIST_YOUR_TECH_STACK. I am available immediately for both the interview and work.”

It would only take me 20 seconds to say that. Then they would know exactly where I am and what I want. If the role they have fits, we carry on talking. If not, we wrap up the call and I haven’t wasted my time.

Other things to keep in mind when talking to recruiters:

  1. Don’t share the names of the companies that you’re currently interviewing with or have the offers from. It is just lead generation, so don’t create unnecessary competition for yourself. Normally saying “I would prefer not to disclose that at this moment” works fine. If they insist saying “Oh, I don’t want to send you CV somewhere, where you have applied before” ask them for the names of the companies they think of sending your CV. Then tell them whether you have already applied there.
  2. Record all the details in a spreadsheet of the recruiters that have interesting offers. I’ve wasted lots of calls where it all seemed great, and then they would just disappear. I have no clue why some of them waste their time (and mine) talking through a cool offer, promise to “send an email,” and then just vanish. To avoid that, I ask “Could you remind me your name and the agency you are calling from?” before the end of the call, and start typing… they normally say “I will send you an email right away” and this time they actually do (sometimes even before hanging up).
  3. If the company they recruit for is looking for mid-level developers and the recruiter says “the company will consider Juniors for the role with the passion and eagerness to learn. Write a nice cover letter and I will submit your CV, too” — don’t. I wrote at least 5 letters spending a good deal of time researching the companies and their background. None went through. Guess why? Because the company is looking for mid-level developers.
  4. As someone who’s looking for a Junior position, you are a small fish to recruiters. So be prepared to be treated as such. They won’t run after you as they do after the mid- and senior-level people. They often won’t follow-up, or will just totally discard you.

By no means is the above relevant to ALL recruiters. I did have a few good experiences with recruiters who were very professional, organized and considerate. But, as I said, there were just a few.

Lesson #3: Go to Startup Job Fairs, Tech Events, and Meetups

There was a time when I would go for a week or two between landing interviews. It was hard and discouraging.

Then I went to the Startup Job Fair. Two days later, I had six interviews lined up for the following 1.5 weeks. I realized immediately how powerful it was to meet someone in person, build rapport, and get a chance to interview at their company.

As a bootcamp graduate or as a self-taught programmer, your main weapons are your fascination with programming and your thirst to learn more. In-person encounters are a perfect place to show these.

I suggest going to meetups regularly. I normally went to one relevant meetup a week, and every big or small tech job fair I could find.

Startup Job Fair proved to be the best, and I accepted a position with a company that I initially encountered there.

On top of everything else, I got introduced to several great people, who also helped me to push my CV through some more doors, and gave me good career and life advice.

One person I met while eating lunch there was also looking for a job. She got one after a week or two, then messaged me with a developer opening at her new company.

This won’t be true for all events, of course. Some events I went were pretty useless. For example, I went to a tech job fair for startups with 10 companies, 5 of which were not even looking for developers.

But I still suggest going to as many events you can. It will pay off in offers, connections, and other unexpected bonuses.

“You miss 100% of shots you don’t take.”
— Wayne Gretzky

Lesson #4: Diversify Your Tech Skill Set

Here are two options, depending on the market you’re in, and the type of bootcamp you’ve attended.

First, if your bootcamp is full-stack JavaScript and you are only looking for JavaScript jobs, and there are plenty in your city — keep writing JavaScript and studying it more.

In my case, however, my bootcamp focused on Ruby on Rails, with some JavaScript. Naturally, I’d been mostly considering Ruby on Rails jobs. As it turned out, there are very few Junior roles and lots of mid and senior available in London. Hence, I chose to diversify, and it worked.

I went through courses, tutorials, endless blog posts, and built a couple of simple projects. This helped me learn enough Node.js, Express.js, Python, Django, and React to able to qualify for Junior positions with these technologies.

If the bootcamp you have finished gave you good fundamentals, new tech will be relatively easy and quickly to pick up.

After I updated my CV and included more technologies, more people started to call. I started to get more responses.

The aim here was not to become the jack-of-all-trades, but to first become employable, and then study deeper the technology that I would be using at work.

In my new position, I’ll be working with Java mainly, so all my focus right now is on that.

Lesson #5: Structure Your Job Search like a Second Bootcamp

Structure. This is very important in a curriculum of a bootcamp. It’s equally important to create a structure and strategy for yourself when searching for a job.

Make a plan of attack and only then start implementing it. Schedule your days to include both job search and study.

Don’t mix things and multitask. We should all know that multitasking is a myth by now.

Focus is the key. Do one thing at a time and don’t forget to take breaks.

If you’re close to finishing the bootcamp , here’s how I would approach the job search:

Research and Study

  1. Look at the job boards and see if there is enough demand for the tech that you know.
  2. Make a list of tech that you lack and need to study or brush up on, based on the job specs. Here is the ‘Awesome list of Awesome Lists’ on Github to get you started.
  3. Research, make a list of blog posts, Youtube tutorials, online courses on each subject from point 2.
  4. Prioritize the topics from point 2 and start studying. Every day at least a bit.

Job Search The SEO Way

Write down a description of the company that you would like to work for. This is more of a mind exercise to understand better what exactly you are looking for. You should have a specific aim and not just “I’m looking for a job.”

Is it an agency, a product company, SaaS? Big, small, medium-sized? A startup or a mature business? What sort of culture you want to be a part of? You want to be a part of a big engineering team or a small one with 2–3 people?

Then list the industries that you like and start searching for companies that match your criteria.

Google is your friend and here are a few tips on how to make your search much more effective. First, I suggest reading Google search operator guides here and here. Here is another place to learn with more examples.

To give you an idea here are some queries that I used to narrow down my search:

inurl:co.uk/careers intext:junior+ruby+developer+london inurl:co.uk/jobs intext:"junior+ruby+developer"+london
inurl:co.uk/jobs intext:junior+software+engineer+london

It should be self-explanatory how the queries above filter the search.

Sometimes you might get a lot of results from a job board. Filter these out with -site:jobboard.com, so that any page from this domain is excluded from your search:

inurl:co.uk/careers intext:"junior+software+engineer"+london -site:reed.co.uk -site:jobsite.co.uk

Search queries with quotes are ‘exact match’, so if you search for intext:"junior+ruby+engineer", you will get results that have all three keywords in the exact sequence as you wrote them.

Experiment and play around with these depending on your location and the type of role you are looking for.

Then create templates for cover letters and email responses for different occasions. I personally kept them all in Google Sheet with different versions depending on the industry. You can also use tools such as Hubspot Sales for creating templates directly in Gmail. It also has free 200 notifications when someone opens your email, which is handy.

For the cover letter — ALWAYS include at least one personalized paragraph at the top of your cover letter. Here is a sample:

“Good Afternoon,
My name is Jar Jar Binks and I would like to be considered as a candidate for the ROLE at COMPANY NAME. Having looked at your company’s website I think it is a really amazing thing that you do — making SOME TASK easier and faster.
My main aim for the role that I am looking for is to be part of a project that actually matters and makes certain part/task of human life better/easier. The way I see it, the bottom line is that when people SOMETHING they can meet this need via your platform much faster. On top of everything else, I have a keen interest in RELATED FIELD TO WHAT THE COMPANY DOES and I would like to be part of COMPANY NAME cause and your mission.”
…rest of the template.

Consider adding some more personalized text at the bottom of the letter, where relevant.

Then structure your Job Search/Study day and treat it like a full-time job. For example:

Morning:

Afternoon:

  • Study 3 hours the programming topic that will help you make more employable.
  • Watch a keynote presentation/ interview with an engineer/listen to the podcast. I find Software Engineering Daily to be amazing.
  • Make a break/read a book (fiction, not non-fiction, let your brain rest)
  • Read 3 useful blog posts. Make sure you are subscribed to the Weekly Newsletters.

Evening:

  • Read a book on programming. Here is a great list.
  • Take a walk and breathe fresh air.

Don’t forget:

  • to eat.
  • to take breaks.
  • to drink lots of water. Aim for 2.5–3 liters per day.
  • to exercise. Even 20–30 min per day in your living room would be just fine.

Full Disclosure: over the course of the bootcamp and after (7 months total) I have lost 8 kg of muscle that I have worked hard to gain a year before. I forgot to do pretty much all 4 things listed above because I was too much immersed in the programming. Don’t make the same mistake. Keep the balance.

Finally, attack! Send several applications per day. Set yourself a benchmark of how many you want to send daily and stick to that.

Lesson #6: Don’t Give Up. Find What Motivates You from Within

It’s easy to give up. Everyone can do that. Only a few can grind forth. Most of us need something external to motivate us. But to get through, you’ll need to find something to motivate you from within.

Find the mechanism that helps you keep going, then channel it every time you feel discouragement or despair closing in on you. It could be literally anything, so it is hard to recommend anything in particular.

Instead, I will share where I channel my inner power. It is Stoicism — probably the most practical philosophy to date.

There is one particular quote from the monumental book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, that I remind myself every single day:

“Impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius

It helps me treat every obstacle as an opportunity:

  • Didn’t progress to the next stage after spending spent 2 days writing the coding test for the company, and didn’t get a single piece of feedback? That’s not bad, that’s good. I’ve learned how to build a new tool and picked up few new tricks. I’ve also learned that such treatment of candidates discourages them, and I will never do that to others in my future career.
  • Didn’t get the offer after the final stage? That’s not bad, that’s good. It’s time to reflect on the interview process and see what I could have done better. It’s also a good time to kindly ask for some feedback from the interviewers.
  • Didn’t pass that test on an interview and felt bad not knowing the answer? That’s not bad, that’s good. I just found a crack in my knowledge that I didn’t know existed. So I can go back home and study the subject of that test. I can also make sure that next time I nail this interview question.
  • The interviewer was a jerk? That’s not bad, that’s good. That’s valuable intel, which shows that such behavior is accepted in the company’s culture. I’ll think twice before moving forward with such a company.

Make no mistake — this is not a “look at the bright side of things” philosophy, this is I turn crap into gold with my sheer power of perception and move on” philosophy.

This is a simple yet very powerful perspective — whatever is in my way IS my way.

If you want to learn more about Stoicism — check the Daily Stoic site.

Admittedly, I’ve had lots of non-stoic days while looking for a job. Thankfully, I had the support of my family, friends and close people who never stopped believing in me for what I am incredibly grateful.

Bonus Lesson: Salaries

If you’re in London and reading this, you might still have a question of how much you should ask for and could get in your new role. There is no straight answer to that. But most of the recruiters will tell you can get £20 — £25k, and that £30k is out of reach for a junior developer. Please know that this is nonsense.

Firstly, I’ve received an offer of £30k+, to work with the technology that I had zero prior experience with.

Secondly, once at a Free Code Camp event, I asked the salary question to a recruiter who was giving us some tips on job hunting. Jump to 1 hour and 10 minutes into this video to hear his advice.

Overall, £25k should be the very minimum that you should ask for in my opinion. And I think it is totally possible to get to the mark of £35k after a bootcamp (not necessarily straight away, but with additional study and practice while during your job search).

At the end of the day, the final amount depends largely on the type of the company you’re getting the offer from.

Finally, the number in your contract should not be the reason for the choice of your job. Opportunity should be. That is why I turned down offers of 30k+ and accepted a short internship with the potential of becoming a full-time member of the team. I will work with Java (which I have never worked before), lots of AWS, cloud tech, Real-Time Transfer Protocols, and many other tasty technologies that make me absolutely excited.

It will be hard of course, and that’s good. Because I will turn this obstacle into a great opportunity.

Summary

  1. Don’t bother too much with the Job Boards, it is the least effective channel of getting a job.
  2. Recruiters can help you in the search, but working with them is not the most reliable option when looking for a junior developer position.
  3. Go to all possible tech job-related events. Expand your network. You might find the right job opportunity from someone you meet there.
  4. Diversify your skill set and learn new technologies that are in demand every day to make you more employable.
  5. Strategize your job search. Just like learning to code, your job search demands a lot of hard work and structure.
  6. Don’t give up. Do whatever it takes to keep your mind focused on the aim. Tell yourself: “No matter how bad it is or how bad it gets, I’m going to make it!”
  7. Don’t base your choice on salary alone. Look for opportunities and amazing technologies to work with.

Finally, I hope you’ll find the advice in this post useful, and that you’ll learn from the various mistakes I made.

If you’re at the start of a bootcamp journey, or considering attending one, feel free to check my 13-week journey at The Firehose Project, starting at week 1.

If you have anything to add — I am happy to hear! Leave the comments below!