With so many people applying for software jobs, how can you stand out?

I recently switched careers to become a software developer and I got multiple job offers. There were many things I did that helped my successful job search such as getting a software degree, creating projects, and networking. But there was another thing I did that really helped me stand out in my job search.

Toward the end of 2016 I read Linchpin by Seth Godin. This convinced me of the importance of putting content out into the world. What I did next I’ve come to describe as building an authority piece.

An authority piece is a specific piece of work that establishes you as an authority in the field. It helps employers trust that you will be a good hire. In the best case scenario, an employer will have already heard of you before you even apply. But that was not my experience, and it is not necessary to have a successful authority piece. An example of an authority piece is a published book, e-book, video course, or popular blog.

On New Year’s day 2017, I began posting JavaScript training videos multiple times per week to YouTube. My goal was to have 100 JavaScript videos by the time I started applying for jobs. I didn’t get quite to 100 but I ended up creating an entire JavaScript course on YouTube. This was something I could point to so potential employers could see I knew what I was doing. It’s a perfect example of an authority piece.

Here’s the most important secret of an authority piece: You don’t have to be an authority to create it! The act of creating it makes you an authority! Many of the topics I created videos on were brand new to me. I had to research the topics to make the videos. And that process made me into an authority.

I have another friend who wrote an e-book about using Angular with Ruby on Rails. He said he had almost no familiarity with the technology before he wrote about it. It only took him a few weeks to research and write the book.

It doesn’t have to take a long time to develop an authority piece. Just like me, my friend found that having the authority piece made getting a job easier. A potential employer told him, “You obviously know your stuff on Angular. You wrote a book about it.”

One thing leads to another

Just putting something out there often leads to more opportunities.

Soon after I started posting videos on my personal YouTube channel, Quincy Larson from freeCodeCamp offered me the opportunity to post my training videos on the freeCodeCamp channel (with many many more subscribers than mine).

Then after seeing my training videos on YouTube, Manning Publications, a popular software book publishing company, asked me to create a video course on Algorithms.

While it helped my job search that my videos were posted on a channel that had over 200K subscribers, I think the most important thing was that I had created the videos in the first place.

When I was interviewing for jobs, my JavaScript videos were mentioned as a reason I was being considered. One company said they appreciated the initiative it took to create them. This would have been true no matter how many subscribers and views I had.

Not everybody needs to create a video course. But I firmly believe that everybody can create something to show they know what they are doing.

Remember: you don’t actually have to know a lot about a topic to create something to teach others about the topic. You just have to have an interest and a desire to learn.

An e-book or email course are possible for anyone to create and it will help set you apart to employers. Just the fact that you created them shows you have initiative, creativity, and drive. And often, one authority piece can lead to another.

If someone were to ask pointed interview questions about every topic I’ve made a video about, I would probably get a lot of the questions wrong. It’s easier for me to know what I’m talking about when reading a script I developed after researching a topic than when I am just answering questions in-person with no script. That’s what is so great about an authority piece. You can show your understanding of a topic, even if it would be a challenge for you to explain things spur-of-the-moment in an interview.

At one of my interviews there was a coding question that I couldn’t figure out. I couldn’t remember a specific concept, but afterwards I realized I had made a video about the very thing I couldn’t figure out while under pressure in the interview. So the next day I emailed them a link to my video. And this became one of the companies that ended up wanting to hire me.

Steps to creating an authority piece

The first step is to decide what topic you are going to create something about. The key is a single focus. This is especially important if you are creating a blog to develop authority. It is best to become an authority in one specific topic, instead of everything.

Since all my videos were about JavaScript, if someone was interested in one of my videos, they were most likely interested in my other videos as well. If I had videos on 10 different programming languages, someone watching one of my videos may not be interested in other videos I created.

Here’s an example to show why focus is important. Let’s say your sink is completely clogged and you want to hire a plumber to fix it. Would you rather hire “Affordable Plumbing” with the tagline “We do it all!” or “Super Clog Busters” with the tagline “We’ll unclog any drain in 10 minutes or it’s free”? Most people would choose “Super Clog Busters” because they specialize in exactly what needs to be fixed. And similarly, many employers would rather hire a specialist than a generalist.

When deciding what to focus on, you don’t have to pick something you already know about. Remember, you will become an authority just by creating your authority piece.

After you have your topic, decide what medium to use. The easiest things are a video course, e-book, or blog. If you can create a video course or e-book, these are better than a blog since they are more rare.

The final and most challenging thing is to work consistently on whatever you are creating. It is consistency that will ultimately set you apart from most other people.

Conclusion

If you start creating something, send me a link. I’d love to see what you're working on!

Also, if you're interested in getting occasional emails from me containing tips for your job search, including more ideas on creating an authority piece, join my email list below.

Something else that will help in getting a software developer job is to be very familiar with data structures and algorithms. This will allow you to pass the technical interview at many companies. On December 15th, I’m choosing two people at random from my email list to receive a FREE copy of my Algorithms in Motion course from Manning Publications! (So you might as well wait until then before unsubscribing ?)