The Modern Approach to Getting That First Job

by Cameron Gould on Thu Aug 11 2022

career2022learning in public

A picture of a job announcement.

Landing your first industry job can be quite confusing. It’s your first time navigating the landscape, and that always comes with the intimidation of not knowing how to do things. In this case, your job is to market yourself. How do you do that? In 2022, the best way to get your name (and your resume) to recruiters is via social media.

Where Do We Begin?

A lot of folks get confused on where to start with social media. Generally, platforms get a bad rep for their questionable data collection practices, lack of empathy for the mental health issues that come with social media addiction, and more. These are enough to keep many skeptical about using it very much outside an occasional post on Instagram and scrolling through TikTok to wind down at the end of the day. But social platforms have a huge upside for those looking for a career. In this article, I’ll be using LinkedIn as an example platform since it’s the most mainstream platform for professional career development.

The first step of any platform is to create your account. For most cases of social media, particularly when you’re on a platform to just consume content, I would recommend you create an anonymous account. In this case though, this is going to act as a portfolio/resume for you, so go ahead and set it up with some personal information. Your name, a brief bio, educational history, and a photo.

The Name and Headline

Your name is actually a pretty great place to start optimizing your account. LinkedIn gives you the ability to put a job title/headline, but if you’re seeking your first job then it isn’t really likely you’ll have much to put in that section. That stinks because job titles are great for search engine optimization, but there’s a great workaround. When you search a keyword on LinkedIn, the results will include accounts whose headlines have the keyword in them. You don’t want to mislead recruiters by saying your current job title is “Software Engineer,” but you can still boost your SEO by putting “Aspiring Software Engineer” in there.

The Bio

Your bio is where you should put your personal elevator pitch. Put a few sentences that describe you, your situation (are you in college? What year?), your strong areas (maybe your favorite programming languages/libraries), and any studies you enjoy (maybe you really like game development). The bio is another place that can boost your SEO, so make sure to throw in a good amount of buzzwords: Software Engineer, Computer Science, Java, Python, etc. will get you on the radar of recruiters who are searching through candidates.

The Photo

Yes, you can definitely go without a photo on LinkedIn, but a friendly face is always gonna be the more inviting option. You don’t need a professional photographer to take your photo. My photo is a selfie, and you’d never know it unless I told you just now. Brush your hair and teeth, put on a nice top, and smile for the camera! It’s worth it, I promise.

Industry and Education

These two fields are straightforward. Make sure to keep your industry and education information up to date to reflect your latest experiences. Furthermore, LinkedIn allows you to add courses you’ve taken to your profile. These definitely could help with SEO especially for university students, since you’ll be taking many CS courses with many buzzwords. Even those of you who are self-taught or do a bootcamp, you can split up your learning experiences into chunks: Data Structures, Algorithms, Compilers, Unity basics, etc..

Location and Contact Information

Location is fairly important especially if you wish to stay in your location during your first job. Definitely list your location (or nearby metro area) if this applies to you so that local tech companies can find you. As for contact information, this can be opinionated. My personal opinion is to give your email, but skip on the phone number. I only say this because I don’t want people scraping my LinkedIn for my phone number just to spam it. Bonus: don’t put your personal address either. That’s just not safe and nothing about your personal address is going to improve SEO. LinkedIn already allows you to share a general area in which you reside!

Instant messaging is sorta the same as the phone number. It doesn’t really add much to your profile. LinkedIn already has direct messaging, so why add another messenger platform to your profile? If you feel like it, go ahead. But it probably won’t change much.

Website

This is probably going to be the tricky part for many folks. A personal website is generally a nice thing to have, and probably a bonus point since it’s a personal project that’s right at the top of your profile. If you do create a personal website, the design of it is very subjective. There’s nothing wrong with literally ripping off someone else’s design, or going barebones with practically zero CSS. Some of the coolest sites I’ve come across often have little to no design. Your personal site would pretty much have the same info as your LinkedIn too, so it’s mostly just to show you have a site. It’s not necessary and probably won’t impact SEO by much. But if you want a bonus project, go for it.

Skills, Projects, Certifications, Volunteer Work, and Awards

This section is miscellaneous by design. I’ve listed things in order of importance because some of these will really boost your SEO while others won’t.

Skills are huge, You can load your account with many skills. These include hard and soft skills, so definitely make sure to get a mix of both. Your skills will help build even more keywords for your account when being considered for search results, so make sure to list the maximum amount of skills! A couple of bonuses: take skill quizzes and get skill endorsements from your peers! Passing skills quizzes will help you by matching you with job listings automatically based on which skills quizzes you’ve passed. I get job recommendations about Python positions because I passed the Python skills quiz. Skills endorsements are also a great way to show people who visit your profile that you’re not just claiming to be good at something because your peers also back you up.

I put projects second here because they’re going to define your work. Projects give recruiters (and any visitor of your profile) a preview of what you are capable of. Ask anyone, projects are a huge deal! You can include class assignments as projects, the bigger the better. Again in your project description, use keywords about what technology you used, what skills you utilized, and maybe some metrics as well. Show that you understood your project and the tech behind it. Certifications are good if you have access to LinkedIn Learning. They certify completion of courses on LinkedIn Learning, which is like a LinkedIn verification that you have done something outside of you just claiming it. But they’re sort of in the middle because this and the rest of the list items are pretty low-ticket items. Volunteer work will certainly make you look good and help you buffer your account if you have fewer projects or experiences. Never underestimate them. But as you start to fill out your profile with more projects and experiences, this section starts to become less important in terms of getting a job. Volunteer work is great, I always recommend you do volunteer work but after a while, you can stop adding it to your profile (while continuing to do it silently, of course).

Awards are definitely at the bottom of this list unless you’re someone going into research. If you are, definitely share those awards you get! Otherwise, you can probably ignore this section. I won a few coding competitions in college but I highly doubt they really made the difference in getting hired.

Recommendations

This section is pretty underrated. It’s the same concept as getting endorsements for your skills, but now it’s for you. Get your peers and teachers/professors to give you a recommendation on LinkedIn. This will help grow the credibility of your account and definitely helps you stand out. And don’t forget to write recommendations for others too!

Okay, Now What?

A picture of a LinkedIn post showing off some work.

This is going to be the hardest part for most people. What do you post? Any time I recommend people invest more time into their LinkedIn, this is the number one question I get. The answer might surprise you with how simple it can be. Post what you’re studying or working on. Post about the web app you’re building, progress on your algorithms assignment, or how your personal project to develop a platformer is going. Anything related to your personal growth in your profession can go directly to LinkedIn. But don’t just stop there! Realize the position you’re in once you finish your project… you learned something that many people still do not know how to do. It doesn’t matter if 1,000 other people have posted about the same topic, it’s your turn to post about it. Remember, the goal here is to show your growth while also making sure to use keywords relevant to the job you want to have.

Here I shared a progress update for one of my personal projects, hyprlink. This is a good example of what you can be doing. This looks complex, but the work pictured here is a cumulation of 4 months of research and development. That brings me to my next point, which is that you don’t have to be extremely active.

I built a following of over 1200 people, but I didn’t do it by posting every day. I did it by doing everything I recommended above. I didn’t post every day and burn myself out, I posted when I felt motivated to share something I was doing to develop my skills. My first several years on LinkedIn were quiet ones. I only started learning the ropes around 2019 and got into a better tempo in 2020-2021. You don’t need to get 1000 followers on LinkedIn either. The cool thing is that the connections counter will only ever show 500+ once you get above 500. It will never show a higher number. So connect with your peers, connect with recruiters, and connect with professionals in the industry. Read their posts, comment on them, and engage with the community! That’s a great foot in the door.

Hard Skills are Required

None of this matters if you don’t actually have the skills necessary to land that first job. Your courses and projects should get you across that line, but don’t forget to do the biggest pain in the neck this whole process has to offer: LeetCode. I personally went for reading Cracking the Coding Interview, reading through everything in there, and then practicing some of the problems (the vast majority of the book is coding problems with solution explanations that are fantastic). I didn’t grind out 500 LeetCode problems, I probably did 50 tops over the course of several months. Everyone works at their own pace though, so if you feel like you need 500 LeetCode problems then go for it!

Results

I’ve been following the exact advice I gave above for several years now. The more I invested in promoting myself and my personal growth, the more recruiters I ended up getting messages from. I took a bet on this approach because I spent hours on end applying to hundreds of applications just to get no reply. My resume was being scanned by automated systems and getting rejected over and over. So I built a better resume that I knew humans would be looking at: my LinkedIn profile. That worked quite well for me, and it may work the same wonders for you too!

Traditional Still Works

This isn’t necessarily a superior way to get a job, it’s just the way that worked better for me. I found it easier to work a social media profile and get it onto the screens of recruiters than to submit a piece of paper to a computer and hope for the best (quite the biased description Cameron, nice). But the traditional method still works if you stick to your guns. Apply to positions early, reach out to recruiters, refine your resume when you get the chance, and don’t just apply to a bunch of places without adjusting your resume for each application. The best thing is that you can do both. Follow the traditional method and build an awesome LinkedIn! But I suggest you follow this guide and send me a message letting me know how it goes. I read all of my LinkedIn messages and make sure to respond.