Applying for entry-level tech jobs (or even just looking) can often send you in circles: You want professional work experience, but the jobs you’d like to apply for require years of experience; so you don’t apply, and end up right back where you started with no experience. This is what’s called the “experience trap.”
So should you stretch the truth about your experience just to get in the door? Being honest is always the best route, but there are strategic ways you can approach this job-seeker’s dilemma.
For starters, people at all levels experience impostor syndrome or the feeling that you have to “fake it till you make it,” explains Francesca Galbo, Codecademy Talent Director. But it’s especially common among career-switchers or folks hoping to break into tech. “You have to have a level of confidence even just to get into the room or the Zoom meeting,” she says. “That also needs to be paired with a sense of transparency.”
Here’s how to avoid this “experience trap,” what to say in an interview if you don’t have the required level of experience, and other tips for breaking into the tech industry.
Lead with your strengths
Before you worry about how to address the gaps in your experience or the areas where you need to grow, think about what you can do. “Have an understanding of what you're going to bring to the table,” Francesca says. “You want to come in hot with your strengths and what you can contribute to an organization.”
You might want to prepare a list of things you feel really confident doing or past projects that illustrate your abilities well, and weave those into your cover letter. If you have prior work experience in other fields, be sure to include any skills that could be transferable in a new role.
Emphasize your “learnability”
Most of the time, hiring managers don’t expect candidates to know everything — but they do want people who are willing to learn on the job, Francesca says. “It's much more of a matchmaking process,” she says. “We want to see if someone is coachable and trainable. Are their strengths applicable for what we're looking for right now? And are there weaker spots that we can train up so that they won't be so green 6 months from now?”
Stress the fact that you are very adaptable and a quick learner, Francesca says. If there are specific skills you’re missing (like languages that aren’t in your current tech stack), express that you’re confident in your ability to learn it quite quickly, she says.
Bring up courses and projects
Programmers are lifelong learners, so be sure to mention any action that you’re taking to bulk up your skill set, Francesca says. For example, maybe you’re working through a course or skill path on Codecademy, or are exploring certifications that could be useful for a position. (You never know: The organization might be willing to pay for your upskilling as part of the compensation package.)
Maybe you’ve completed Codecademy portfolio projects or you have a robust Github profile that showcases your contributions to open-source software — if so, mention it all. “Have a very clear understanding of where your knowledge set is, and then have a confident demonstration of that when you come into the interview process,” Francesca says.
Err on the side of transparency
Once you’ve applied and landed a job interview, don’t choke if you’re asked about a language or framework you’ve never used before, Francesca says. If there are comparable technologies that you are familiar with, see if you can draw parallels, and again, express your enthusiasm for learning.
For example, here’s how you could answer an interview question about a language you don’t know:
“To be totally honest with you, I've never touched Python. My primary focus has always been working within Ruby, which I'm told is similar. Since these are two languages that can do relatively the same thing, I'm very confident in my ability to get trained up quickly on Python, considering I have such a robust knowledge of Ruby.”
Extinguish your self-doubt
Fortunately for job-seekers, lots of employers are moving away from these sorts of experience requirements, because they’re looking for candidates with diverse professional experience and educational backgrounds, Francesca says. The fact that you have an unconventional path to programming could be the thing that makes you stand out as a solid candidate.
Your mindset throughout the job application process can have an effect on the outcome, so it’s important to keep your head up and stay positive. “If you approach the situation like: I do not have enough experience for this job. I do not deserve this job. I will probably not get this job. People will read that off of you,” Francesca says.
At the end of the day, it’s not personal if an organization doesn’t move forward with your application because you don’t have the experience under your belt that they’re looking for. Let the feedback motivate you to fill those knowledge gaps and develop the skills you need to get hired — you got this!
Looking for ways to build out your tech experience so you can start applying to jobs? Check out our library of portfolio projects for hands-on practice that you can use in your professional portfolio. We also have code challenges based on real-world technical interviews that you can explore and put your skills to the test. And if you’re ready to jump in and add a new language or framework to your tech stack, check out our full catalog of courses.