This is the first of a handful of posts about the 3-month search for my first full-time developer job.

I graduated from a coding bootcamp in April. I’m a junior developer, though, I have some freelance projects on my resume that gave me about 2 years of experience. This, combined with a decently written Linkedin profile, contributed to my getting contacted by multiple recruiters daily. I wound up landing my first full-time job (a contract position) through one of those recruiters. I’ll go into that in detail later in the post.

TL-DR;

  • I found a job through a recruiter almost 3 months into my search, but most of my success came from applying to jobs myself. 11 of 12 on-site invitations I got on my own.
  • I worked with 12 different recruitment companies. My experiences were wide-ranging, from being borderline disrespected and harassed, to being helped and uplifted.
  • The range of quality amongst staffing companies is astounding. Some the criteria you can use to get a sense for this: well-written messages and conversations with explicit information, showing they understand your unique background (and aren’t just spamming), and not pushing you to give all your personal information up front.
  • Be selective about who you work with to save time. I don’t regret having chosen to work with recruiters, but it could hurt your chances to land a junior role.
  • Working with Signature Consultants is highly recommended! They are the high-quality recruiting company that got me my current job.

Specific experiences

The statistic I had for median salaries in my area for bootcamp graduates was around $68k. One well-known recruiting company said that I would be very lucky to get $60k and that most junior level jobs they have were from $45k-$55k. They also said my background is “difficult” because I don’t have a degree or much to show in terms of experience. I wasn’t deterred by their negative bias B.S. I felt motivated to tighten up my cover letters and study harder.

There are a lot of staffing companies that outsource their recruiters. A few companies found my resume on Dice.com and I’m fairly certain I’ll never stop hearing from them. One company got me. They said “Urgent - your skills are needed NOW - direct hire for a role in your area.” (or something similar.) I bit the bullet and responded. The recruiter called me 8 times a day and left messages that said “please call me back, I am waiting to hear from you.” Talk about annoying! After getting all my information in, I never heard back. (Yikes, was I scammed? This is the company: pyramidci.com)

And honestly, I was ghosted by the majority of the recruiters I spent the 30-60 minutes working with. They ask all the same questions, you give your information, they give the same spiel, and finally talk about some of the roles that are available. They’ll “put your resume in front of the hiring manager and get back to you shortly.” The process was time-consuming and probably a waste of time with most of the companies. Some of them had great intentions and were very personable. Once in a while, an opportunity came through!

One company successfully got me a phone screen. Afterward, they gave me the “feedback” that “I’m too junior.” I got that “feedback” dozens of times throughout the job search process. Ha.

A few recruiters wanted to meet face-to-face and build a real connection. I appreciated that. It made it even more time-consuming, but those companies seemed much better aligned to find me a job that fit what I was looking for.

I was applying to a lot of roles on my own. (I submitted nearly 170 applications). Many times, recruiters would ask if I’d applied for job X or Y and I already had. They can’t represent you if you’ve already applied. In one case, a recruiter suggested company D. I already applied, but hadn’t heard back from the hiring manager. They encouraged me to follow up with him and it turned into an on-site interview.

In fact, you can use the information recruiters give you to discover roles that you may not have found otherwise. I wouldn’t go out of my way to do this specifically, but there’s a time and a place for it. The companies that utilize external staffing agencies are the ones that you can benefit from following up more aggressively. Actually, you should always aggressively follow up with companies. Connect with employees and HR people on Linkedin, find their emails, etc. Play the long game.

The role I took

A recruiter from Signature Consultants sent me a message on Linkedin entitled “Passionate about React?” In that note, he told me details about the role, the name of the company, the benefits, and that it was a contract role. It’s rare that you get all the information in the first message. I wrote back immediately and said I was interested. The company was a class-act throughout the entire process. It took a few weeks to schedule the first phone screen, but they updated me in the meantime. They were excellent about communication and scheduling. They met me onsite before the interview (which is awesome) and gave me copies of my resume (which I wound up using!) Incredibly helpful. After the interview, I received the offer the next day. Signature is handling the HR, I’m contracted to the company I’m working for through Signature.

So far, I’m really happy about the arrangement. Since the company I’m working for is not the same as the company handling HR, there have been a few crossed wires concerning the initial logistics. So, getting started has been a little bumpy, but I’m confident that it will be smoothed out within my first month of working.

* Just to be clear, my endorsement of Signature Consultants is personal and non-incentivized.

Working with junior developers: a recruiter’s insight

Traditional advice about working with recruiters (in any industry) is that they are much more useful when you are past junior phase. I spoke with Matt Hoffman, founding partner of re-factor to get some insights why: (paraphrased)

“From the perspective of a company, working with a recruiter makes your hire a more expensive one to make. They’d pay a premium for someone who had nearly exactly the experience they were asking for but with an early-career candidate, they often don’t have the appetite to pay 1.2-1.25x the salary of an early-career engineer.”

Put another way, a company doesn’t need to spend as much if a junior developer applies without recruiter representation.

Almost every tech company with an engineering department needs mid-level and senior-level developers. Recruiters can help these candidates immensely with targeted searches. Junior developers are much less in-demand and the competition for those positions is high. Given Matt’s advice, focus your efforts on applying to jobs on your own. You can get help refining your story for cover letters which will lead to eventual success.

I asked Matt about my particular long-term contract situation. He said (paraphrased):

“It’s necessary to work with recruiters for contract or contract-to-hire roles. They not only locate the engineering talent but they also administer they payroll, invoicing, etc. In the case of larger organizations, they’re often able to split up resources and hire junior developers on contract.”

Matt is very active in the Chicago tech community and adds that he “loves to help folks who’re early into their career directly. I don’t want to make their search more difficult so we just make ourselves available for resume review and coaching here or there.” I would’ve loved to have worked with Matt if I knew this earlier!

I was lucky to have received great advice on interviewing and creating a resume from my career development team at Fullstack Academy. The resume advice I got from other recruiters was marginally helpful in some cases, and way off-the-mark in other cases. I trusted my career team, so they had the final say on changes I wasn’t sure about. Usually, recruiters had good general and/or specific advice for preparing for the interviews with which they’ve set you up.

Looking back

Obviously, I don’t regret having chosen to work with recruiters. Although, I learned that I should’ve been much more selective about who I was working with. 6 or fewer recruiters would’ve been more than enough. Multiple companies were slinging around the same roles. Many (most) of those roles are advertised online. I really got into the flow of applying on my own. I find it difficult to turn down recruiters (and people in general), but here’s the message I crafted and sent to a handful when I finally learned my lesson:

“Hello ___, I really appreciate you reaching out. I’m working with a handful of recruiters now and my plate is pretty full with applications and interviews! So, I’m going to decline this opportunity for now, but I’d like to possibly reach out to you in the future. Thanks for thinking of me! Best, ~me”

I also would receive unsolicited phone calls from recruiters. A few times, I told them similar things.

One thing I’ll say, talking to recruiters is great practice for talking about yourself and your professional goals. The stakes are lower than when talking to a company for the first time. By the 12th recruiter I talked to, I had my story down. I could explain exactly what I wanted. In a nutshell, a great team, little bit of mentorship, and the company seeking someone who was willing to learn anything.

I plan on writing more posts about the craziness that is applying for jobs from my self-taught / coding bootcamp perspective. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!