My developer journey - Finding my first job

Part 2: Lots of interviews, lots of rejections, and my first internship

Dan Spratling

May 10, 2020

5 min read

This is part 2 in a multi-part blog series, talking about my journey from knowing nothing about programming, to where I am now. Read my journey from childhood to university first if you want the full picture.

These posts aim to share some context about my career and to help you get to know me. I believe anybody can be a developer, and I hope this helps someone decide to pursue their dream<

In the last post, we left off just after I'd finished university, coming out with an average grade (60%), and only one project which I could show off (and it wasn't a very impressive one).

Now it was time to start searching for jobs. I put together my résumé, which was very sparse as I had no experience and very few projects to show. I had no GitHub profile (definitely make yourself a GitHub profile if you don't have one and put a few projects in there). Looking back now, it was a bad résumé.

One suggestion I have for those looking to make a résumé at any point, but especially as a Junior, is to have at least 2 real projects, hosted if possible. You don't have to have a portfolio website, but you do have to demonstrate you can code.

So I started applying, with a very wordy résumé and no real experience or projects. As you can imagine, this didn't go well. I applied for about 20 Junior positions and, surprisingly, got many interviews, but they all fell through. Most of the responses said I didn't have enough experience which was incredibly frustrating as they were junior positions. Isn't that the point.

As a junior you'll likely get lots of rejections, and it's difficult not to take this to heart. Remember that many people are hunting for the same jobs and you probably don't have much to differentiate you. Creating something which makes you stand out is a sure-fire way of increasing your chances of being hired.

If you're an employer, be honest with your candidates. Give them feedback on how they can improve during your process, especially if they've made it to a physical interview. Not doing this leaves a poor impression

Looking back now, I can see that "not enough experience" didn't necessarily mean that I didn't have industry experience. The issue was that I didn't have experience building high-quality products, working within a team, or have any projects to show off. It's always easier to figure out problems in hindsight.

Create something amazing, and you'll get rewarded. It doesn't have to be complicated, but show off your skills. Make yourself wanted before you even get to the interview.

I continued to interview and continued to get rejected, so I broadened my search. My focus was web development, but I started applying for positions which were further from the front end (which was my speciality) to get my foot in the door. My backend skills were poor, and it wasn't something I cared about, so this ended up leading to even more failed interviews.

At the same time, I also started looking for internships and apprenticeships to try and get any experience. I noticed that was what my weakness was and therefore decided to try and fix it.

Even if your interviewers don't give you clear feedback, you can still try and make improvements. If you don't get an interview, your résumé needs work. If you stumble during interviews, you might need more practice. Be critical of yourself, and make sure each interview is a learning experience, even if you don't get the job.

After months of searching, interviews and rejections, I finally saw an internship for a small web agency, but all of their previous candidates had been graphic designers. I applied on the off chance that they took web developers, and a few days later, I got an email back inviting me to interview.

The internship was only 3 weeks long, and paid very little (£50 per day), but it meant I could gain experience, and that's what I needed. I didn't learn much about development in those 3 weeks, it's not enough time to fully immerse into a project, but I did learn quite a lot about how a business operates and communicating between designers, developers and management. I tried my hardest and produced the best results I could, despite the time restrictions and my weaknesses with development.

After the 3 weeks were up, I received a follow-up offer for a 3-month contract for a more reasonable salary, which gave me a much deeper insight into the business and allowed me to work on 2 full projects. I was working with WordPress, and other than the 3 weeks prior, I hadn't used WordPress at all. I learned a lot, about code (HTML & CSS mostly), about business, about clients, and other related skills like design, copywriting and SEO.

The internship gave me a solid footing in the industry and would probably have been enough experience on its own to make me stand out. Still, during that internship, I'd stood out enough to the agency I was working for that they decided they wanted to keep me.

Remember, the goal of an interview is to make yourself wanted. My internship was the reason I got the contract (and later, more contracts too), but I also got a job offer at another agency. 3 weeks experience might not seem like much, but it shows commitment, willingness to learn, and gives you knowledge of a real workplace. It's small, but it's enough to put you above all the other candidates.