There are many reasons to look at a career in tech right now. These range from more open jobs — demand is off-the-charts high in cybersecurity, data science, engineering and others — to more money and opportunities for creative problem solving.
But if you’re coming from another industry, entering the field can be daunting. How do you start over, rebuilding your professional network as well as your skill set? Hype spoke with Jessica Lava, a Senior Career Development Counselor at Flatiron School, a web and mobile development educational company that recently opened a bootcamp program in Atlanta. She shares her top tips on making the right networking moves for a new career in tech.
Tech is a lucrative field right now, but there are so many career path options. How would you suggest those interested in making a career change narrow down those options?
By diving straight in. An individual’s success will be driven by their hard work and passion for technology, so before committing to a career pivot, make sure you are really confident in your career path and decision.
Once students have made the leap and know they want pursue coding as a career, it can be helpful to spend quality time doing research into the various technical professions, including roles/job titles, industries, and companies that are hiring.
Students should also engage in genuine personal reflection to really think about what they are looking for in a position: short and long term goals, responsibilities, culture, day to day routine, accommodations, perks, etc. There’s a lot to consider, but the secret of getting ahead is just getting started.
Once you’ve chosen a path and decided to pursue extended education, what are some ways to be proactive in securing employment after the program?
Our goal is to help our students to be ‘no brainer hires’ — which is two-fold: technical and cultural. On the technical side, our students tend to be lifelong learners, and we encourage them to continue honing their craft after graduation.
On the cultural side, companies want to hire people who can make a positive impact and contribute to a team and company. As a job seeker, students are responsible for not just telling people what value they can add, but showing people. Crafting their story, focusing on their transition to code and the steps that led them to a bootcamp, creating a professional online brand (LinkedIn, Medium, GitHub, Twitter, etc), connecting with people both in-person and electronically, leveraging and growing their networks, and selling themselves as scrappy, hardworking developers.
Let’s talk about building a network in a new field. For some people, networking feels “icky” or just uncomfortable. How can you meet people authentically?
This mindset is incredibly common. But I would challenge that belief directly. Networking is not weird, and does not have to be awkward — it is an absolute necessity in building connections in the world of tech. People get people jobs.
I often advise my students to engage in self-reflection and figure out where they fall on the networking comfort spectrum. Does networking feel easy and super natural to them? Or does the idea of entering a room full of strangers stress them out and feel impossible? By determining where their comfort lies, we can figure out a strategy to help them navigate networking in a way that feels comfortable.
In my opinion, exposure is the best approach. Choose an event of interest (maybe a speaker you follow, a topic you are interested in, or a gathering held at your dream company’s office). Don’t put pressure on yourself to engage people, or walk away with contact information. Eventually, networking will feel less scary.
Are there any networking mistakes you commonly see and would suggest avoiding?
Networking can be challenging, and there are definitely some scenarios to be avoided. Some students will default to handing business cards out to people they meet at events. The problem with that approach is that there is no guarantee that the other person will follow up to continue the conversation.
Instead, we encourage our students to obtain the contact information of the other person. That way, they are in control of keeping the conversation going by following up the next day. Related, not taking responsibility for keeping conversations ‘alive’ or circling back with contacts on an ongoing basis is a big mistake. It is a best practice to document or log all the interactions you make throughout your job search so that you can periodically check back with the person to share updates. Maybe their company isn’t hiring today, but if you follow up once a month, you’ll be first in line when a role does open.
Another common mistake is when people focus too much on the ‘sell’ and the job information, instead of the person they are talking to. Remember, people help people that they like. Invest in the relationship. Get to know the other person, ask questions about their background, experience, and current role. Show genuine interest, and be conversational, not transactional. Finally, talk about code!
Do you think people new to the tech industry benefit from working with headhunters or recruiters? What other resources for finding a job are available?
When you are looking for a job, my theory is that you should be talking to everyone who will listen. Building relationships and connecting with people is an essential part of networking. It can’t hurt to work with professionals to help navigate the job market.
That said, nowadays, many are entering the software engineering profession from non-traditional backgrounds, and your biggest hurdle is finding the right person to hear your unique story and then convincing that person to ‘go to bat’ for you. Generally, recruiters are not the stakeholders with the incentives or the political capital to do this.
The better bet is to talk directly to the decision-maker: someone internal to the company involved in the hiring process. Find these decision-makers is at industry events or through online research — LinkedIn is an incredible tool to find people, connect, and more. Meetup.com allows you to explore in-person events on every topic. Hired.com, Indeed.com, and AngelList have great job boards. Use hunter.io and mailtester.com to discover someone’s professional email address. There are so many job search tools out there.
This article is sponsored by Flatiron School, an outcomes-focused coding bootcamp offering transformative education in person and online. In as little as 15 weeks, Flatiron students learn to code and launch lifelong careers as developers. Learn more about their Atlanta campus offerings and start coding today.