Demand for entry-level software engineers is generally not as high as it is for experienced developers. Without any professional work experience to demonstrate your skillset, it’s really hard to stand out. It’s important that you have a solid way to showcase your thinking and quality of output. One of the ways to do that is to build a great job search portfolio.
As a talent advisor at OfferZen, I work with dozens of developers every day. Over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of recent graduates or self-taught entry-level developers aren’t sure how to go about their first job search. Here’s why a standout portfolio matters so much and what needs to be in it.
Take your time when building a resume
The first step to creating a standout portfolio is developing your resume, which may be a PDF document or part of your own personal website. Whichever format you choose, your resume will be how you make your first impression on hiring managers. In most cases, hiring managers decide if they want to contact you further after reading through your resume.
Creating a resume takes time. Ideally, you should start developing yours at least nine months before starting your job search. But of course, this will depend on your personal preference and how much time you have to find your first job.
Reflect on your projects and achievements
Since you won’t have professional software engineer experience to speak to, you may be asking yourself what you need to include in your resume to make it stand out. Here are some elements I would suggest adding:
- Certificates and any evidence of courses you’ve completed. They can be technical or not, and it doesn’t need to be through specific education institutions such as universities. It could be an online technical course through Udemy or an interpersonal skills course through something like Dale Carnegie.
- University transcripts and any projects you completed during your education, both individual and group projects. Describe the roles and responsibilities you held, the tech you used, the aim of the project, and any key learnings you gained.
- You can also include any freelance or personal projects.
- Awards and achievements that showcase your technical and interpersonal skills.
- Some kind of technical skills matrix showing off what tools you’re versed in.
- You can add more personal details, like some kind of introduction to yourself and your interests. This shouldn’t be more than two to three lines.
Keep in mind that it takes time to reflect on the projects and achievements you want to include in your resume. You want everything you add to speak to your ability to fulfil the developer role you’re applying for.
Make a copy of this resume template if you need help getting started.
Make sure your resume is easy to read
Considering how many resumes hiring managers need to go through on a daily basis, you want to make yours easy for them to get to know you and your skill set. Here are a few things that will make your resume easy to read:
- Have headings to separate each section.
- Bold keywords you want to stand out, such as your technical skills.
- Use appropriate font sizes – you don’t want a hiring manager to squint to read it, but you also don’t want to submit a resume that is 4 pages long due to large font sizes.
- Avoid including text-heavy paragraphs that don’t necessarily get to the point quickly.
You also want to make sure your grammar is correct as it shows attention to detail and a good work ethic.
A grammar mistake on your job search portfolio is off-putting and can indicate that there wasn’t much effort or thought put into preparations.
There are many great online grammar assistant applications that will help you make your CV error-free, such as Grammarly.
Ask a friend to give your resume or personal website a look and ask them how easy they found it to navigate.
Designing your resume
The design of your resume is a personal choice, but you should make sure it adds to your application instead of taking away from it. Add your own flair to the design and layout, but don’t make it too colourful or complicated – you still want to come across as professional.
If you decide to build a personal website to showcase your resume, make sure to check everything works. The design and theme should make it easy for hiring managers to read through and pick up key information.
Hiring managers read through loads of resumes and websites every week, so an attractive design will differentiate you from others and create a great first impression.
It also gives hiring managers insight into how your brain works and what you consider to be quality design. See here for more tips on how to use Netlify to build an online portfolio.
Write a cover letter outline you can use for different applications
The next step to a standout job search portfolio is a cover letter specific to the job you’re applying for. Writing a cover letter for every role you apply for may seem like unnecessary effort, but it’s a great way to show off who you are as well as your career goals and how you would fit into that role.
Make your cover letters as specific to the role you’re applying for as possible. Speak to the skills listed in the job spec and how you’ve acquired these through your experience thus far.
Even though you’ll only have project and learning experience, you can still recognise the technical and interpersonal skills you acquired. If there are skills in the job description you haven’t yet acquired or mastered, speak to these and give a realistic plan to how you would upskill and how long it would take.
To save yourself time, create a cover letter outline that you can easily tailor to the job you’re applying for. Make a copy of this template to help you get started.
Establish an online presence
Last but not least, build up an online presence. Establishing your online presence helps showcase your programming skills and it gets your name out there in the tech community.
A well-curated online presence shows hiring managers you’re passionate and proactive about your career, which will assist in securing those first interviews.
Join community forums
Create a profile on LinkedIn at the beginning of your final year of study and start adding to it from day one. You can include articles that interest you, projects you may be working on or involved in, any conferences you’re attending and any courses you’re completing, technically focused or not.
You can also post any written articles you’ve done. It’s a great way to give a hiring manager insights into how you think, plus it shows off how passionate you are about your career. If you haven’t had the chance to do written work yet but would like to, you can write with OfferZen alongside your own personal editor. See here for more information.
Try to get involved with as many tech-focused communities as you can. Connecting with like-minded people won’t only assist you in your job search, but it can also help with your growth, and it can be fun.
Showcase projects on your GitHub account
As soon as you start your learning journey, create a profile on GitHub. This is a useful space to store your projects and once you start interviews, you can easily share your code with hiring managers. Include projects that you are genuinely passionate about as this will come across to hiring managers if you get a chance to speak about them.
Add projects in which you collaborated with others. This helps show that you can seamlessly integrate into software engineering teams. Since you have no prior professional experience, you need to address this concern for hiring managers.
It can be difficult to showcase your skills when searching for your first developer job since you haven’t yet had professional experience. While demand for software engineers remains high, entry-level developers will likely find it more difficult to catch a hiring manager’s interest.
Establishing a standout job search portfolio will set you up for success in securing potential employers’ interest and, from there, a great first software engineer job.
See here for tips on how to ace your interviews as an entry-level developer.
Kyra Meiring is a Talent Advisor at OfferZen with extensive experience in supporting multiple software engineers to navigate their job search. When she’s not helping developers succeed in their job search, she enjoys socialising, going to the gym and is an avid series watcher.
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