If you’re applying for your first entry-level tech position, deciphering what a hiring manager really wants to see in your application or hear in an interview can feel like trying to read someone’s mind. “Getting a job in tech seems like a black box for anyone not in tech,” says Mariya Chekmarova, Senior UX Research Manager at Codecademy.
Given how many of our Codecademy learners are vying for these entry-level positions, our UX Research team decided to go straight to the source: hiring managers. In a recent research study, we asked hiring managers exactly what they look for and prioritize in an entry-level candidate for an engineering position. The goal of this study was to get researched-backed insights about the current tech hiring process that we can use to help Codecademy learners (like you!) have a better chance of landing an entry-level job in tech.
Our UX researchers are always talking to our learners to better understand their needs, explains Sil Lavers, a UX Researcher at Codecademy. This specific study is considered “generative research,” a type of research that’s focused on developing a deeper understanding of users and defining the problem that you’ll address later on. (You can learn how to conduct generative research in our free course Learn User Research: Generative.)
For context, a “hiring manager” in this study is anyone whose job includes hiring an entry-level technologist, with a focus on the last six months. “We did not speak to recruiters,” whose job it is to source potential candidates for a position, Sil says. “It was all hiring managers who will have the final say in hiring a person.”
The hiring managers who the UX Research team interviewed for the study worked at companies with 100+ employees, including some folks at big-name FAANG (shorthand for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) companies. Curious what they had to say? Here are the main takeaways from the research study to keep in mind as an entry-level job candidate.
Your resume is the most important material in an application
Of all your application materials — like your cover letter, portfolio, and GitHub profile — your resume matters the most to hiring managers. The writing style and format of your resume is just as important as the content of it, Sil says. “A poorly-written or typo-ridden resume could be a deal-breaker,” she says. Not only is your resume a summary of your experience and proof of your fundamental technical knowledge, but it’s also an opportunity to showcase your communication and presentation skills. (If writing isn’t your strongest suit, read this blog with tips about how to use ChatGPT when drafting resumes and cover letters.)
You should include any additional work experience that you have on your resume, even if it’s not directly related to tech. Hiring managers see work experience as an indicator of soft skills, like verbal communication and problem-solving, Sil says. So while your part-time camp counselor gig might not seem directly applicable to a developer position, it shows that you understand how to lead a team and resolve conflicts.
Soft skills will get you the job
Your flawless resume and technical skills might get you in the door, but “soft skills get you the job,” Mariya says. During behavioral interviews and even technical assessments, hiring managers want to make sure that you can effectively communicate your process and ideas to any audience. You should be able to articulate how you approach a problem and collaborate with others in a team setting.
Practicing how you’ll answer interview questions is a great way to get used to talking through your work. Our interview prep courses are specifically designed to help you develop and showcase your collaboration and problem-solving skills in a tech job interview.
You aren’t expected to know everything
Gauging whether you have what it takes to apply to a job can trigger feelings of impostor syndrome big time. But here’s the thing: Hiring managers don’t expect entry-level candidates to have a perfect technical skill set and know everything on day one.
Someone in a senior-level position might hit the ground running and start contributing meaningful work to projects within a few weeks of starting a new role. Entry-level folks are usually granted a longer ramp-up period, because they require additional onboarding, training, and development, Sil says.
So you can exhale a little bit knowing that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful in an entry-level job. That said, when an organization takes a chance on an entry-level employee, they’re also investing in your development. “They expect you to have a good attitude, and demonstrate that you’re willing to learn,” Mariya says. “That actually goes quite a long way.”
In our learner stories on the blog, you can read how Codecademy learners handled the first day of their new tech careers.
Degrees and certifications are positives
Any designation that demonstrates your completion and mastery of something are positives to have in your job application. For example, professional certificates, awards, or a bachelor’s degree in any area of study (not just STEM-related fields). “Hiring managers view certificates as a positive signal, but not a deciding factor,” Sil says.
Like your work history, a bachelor’s degree can signal to a hiring manager that you have experience working on projects with others and presentation skills, Sil says. If you don’t have a college degree, there are other ways you can showcase your alternative qualifications, like including projects in your portfolio or highlighting practical experience that’s similar to what you’d get out of a bachelor’s program. If you have professional certifications that you’ve earned, it can’t hurt to include them on your resume: “Hiring managers view certificates as a positive signal, but not a deciding factor,” Sil says.
If you’re someone who’s switching careers or lacks specific qualifications like a bachelor’s degree, do your research and consider the companies you’re targeting in your job search. For example, smaller companies like start-ups may put more emphasis on skills than traditional education requirements. For many organizations, college degree requirements are baked into their hiring policies, and aren’t necessarily a reflection of the actual job responsibilities. Fortunately, more and more companies are getting rid of these degree mandates altogether, leveling the playing field for folks from non-traditional backgrounds to break into tech.
Show that you’re serious about switching careers
When evaluating candidates who are switching careers, hiring managers in the study were looking for “proof of your commitment to changing careers,” Sil says. One way to do this could be highlighting projects you’ve completed, internships that you’ve done, or hackathons you’ve participated in.
Really anything that demonstrates your dedication to pursuing the tech field is worth documenting — it doesn’t have to be prestigious to be relevant. For example, volunteering to assist a local charity with their database, building a website for a friend, or contributing to Docs. “What matters most is your initiative, your interest, your curiosity, and how you document and talk about that,” Mariya says.
Need some ideas for projects that you can use to bolster your resume? Check out our catalog of projects you can use for practice, portfolio, inspiration, and more.