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5 Ways to Successfully Apply for a Tech Job in 2024, According to a Career Coach

8 minute read | January 2, 2024
Kindra Cooper

Written by:
Kindra Cooper

Ready to launch your career?

About a year ago, as high-profile tech layoffs began dominating headlines, Karen Woodin-Rodriguez, a career coach at Springboard, noticed her students’ job searches dragged on longer than before. Before, career switchers could find a job within 3-6 months of graduation. Now, her students wait 6-12 months to land a new role. But this phenomenon isn’t unique to career changers

According to a report released by the Josh Bersin Company and AMS, a workforce solutions firm, the time it takes to hire a new employee reached an all-time high of 44 days in 2023 and has risen consistently over the last four years.  

A tightening labor market has heightened competition for jobs after the tech industry shed nearly 250,000 workers from 2022-2023, and recession fears linger with no reprieve in sight. There is now, on average, one job opening for every two applicants on LinkedIn (in 2022, it was one job opening per applicant).  

Frustrated candidates apply to even more openings, giving companies more applications to sift through. While AI solutions have empowered job seekers to generate custom cover letters and resumes at scale, this further saturates the job market. Job seekers are sending 40% more applications than they did last year at this time, according to LinkedIn. 

Springboard career coach Karen Woodin-Rodriguez

Woodin-Rodriguez shared her strategies for taking the stress out of the job search at Springboard’s annual RISE 2023 Summit, a conference convening seasoned tech professionals and Springboard mentors to discuss hot topics in tech. 

“The more you can make your job search feel good, the more productive, creative, energetic, and less stressed you’ll feel,” she said.

This isn’t a naive call to “think positive” in the face of bills piling up and months slipping away without a job offer. It’s about practicing self-care and taking the right actions to stand out from other candidates.

1. Reframe your “wins”

Many Springboard graduates feel deflated when, a few weeks after graduation, they’ve failed to land any interviews. “The problem with using job interviews as a success metric is that it is a lagging indicator,” said Woodin-Rodriguez. 

In economics, this describes a financial sign that becomes apparent in retrospect. For example, the signs of an impending recession are identified only after the economy has crashed. When it comes to your job search, landing an interview requires a lot of prework. Instead of focusing on the outcome (interview), track the “leading measures” or actions you’re taking to land that interview. 

“A win is any behavior you perform to move your job search forward,” said Woodin-Rodriguez. “If you wrote a kick-ass cover letter or mustered the courage to message a startup founder you admire, that’s a win. Or if you barely got out of bed but still sent three connection requests to professionals in your industry, that’s also a win.” 

Building genuine relationships, attending networking events, and doing pro-bono work to build your portfolio will get you closer to landing your dream job. 

2. Focus on growing your skills

When you graduate from Springboard, you are a qualified candidate. You possess the baseline technical skills required to do the job of an entry-level software engineer, data scientist, UX designer, or cybersecurity professional. But how do you go from being a qualified candidate to a competitive one? Experience. 

Offer to do pro bono design work for your friend’s startup, create a personal data science project using a dataset that interests you, and regularly commit code by contributing to open-source projects. (Tip: Keep that contribution graph on your GitHub profile looking green—it’s one of the first things hiring managers look for when shortlisting candidates). 

Woodin-Rodriguez always tells her students to focus on what they can control. You can’t directly control whether you land a job within six months. However, you can acquire six more months of experience, make connections at your favorite companies, beef up your portfolio with personal or pro bono projects, and practice telling a more compelling story during job interviews. 

“If you prioritize growth in these areas, the money will take care of itself,” says Woodin-Rodriguez. “It sounds counterintuitive because you’re like, ‘Where’s my job?’ but you’ll get there if you focus on these things.”

One of her students, Sabrina, found a female-founded tech startup on Wellfound that she admired. She addressed a cold email to the founder expressing her enthusiasm for the company and offering pro bono work. When the founder responded, she wrote, “I receive a lot of messages like this, but I responded to your because it seemed very personalized.” Sabrina went on to land paid contract work with the startup. 

Need some tips on how to build a strong portfolio? Check out these helpful resources:
11 UX Design Project Ideas to Boost Your Portfolio
Cyber Security Projects to Grow Your Portfolio
How to Build a Machine Learning Portfolio (+ Examples)
How to Build an Awesome Data Science Portfolio (+5 Examples)

3. Have a creator mindset

Most people assume the only way to land a job is by befriending recruiters or sending resumes destined for the proverbial “black hole” via job boards. However, there’s always a “third door”—an alternative entry point most people don’t consider. 

When Grammy-winning pop star Lady Gaga was trying to launch her singing career in New York City during the early 2000s, she would call clubs and ask to be put on the performer’s list. The club promoters would say, “Lady who?” and hang up. 

“Lady Gaga printed posters of herself and taped them to lampposts outside the club so the club promoters would see it and think, ‘Who is this famous person?’” said Woodin-Rodriguez. “That’s how she got on their lists and built her career.” 

Find ways to demonstrate your value to a company you admire. Create a case study proposing how you’ll improve the company’s mobile app. Or highlight projects you’ve worked on relating to a similar industry or business problem the company may be facing. 

Have a creator mindset as you're job searching

As career switchers, Springboard students tend to land jobs in industries that align with their previous career path. For example, Kristy Chu, a former accountant landed a software engineering role at FloQast, which provides software solutions for accountants. 

“One of my students, Naan was really interested in a company, but then he found out the position was closed,” said Woodin-Rodriguez. 

Instead of giving up, Naan found the recruiter’s email and explained that even though the company was no longer accepting applications, he was really excited about the opportunity and didn’t want to miss out. 

“He created this beautiful deck about his experience and how it aligned with the company’s mission and landed an interview.”

4. Rate your job search performance and find areas of improvement

A targeted job search is more effective than a “spray and pray” approach. Woodin-Rodriguez encouraged job seekers to evaluate their “performance” in the job search and pick one area to focus on for the next few weeks. 

Consider these five areas to rate your performance in the job search:

  1. Company targeting – Identify the companies where you have the highest chance of landing an interview based on your prior domain expertise. For example, if you’re a former teacher turned data analyst, like Springboard grad Sarah Savage, target education companies (she now works at edX, a MOOC provider). 

Similarly, if you have experience working on an industry-specific project during your Springboard studies, find companies in a similar industry. “One of my students did an Industry Design Project with a fintech company,” Woodin-Rodriguez said, referring to the four-week internship students in the UI/UX Design Bootcamp must complete. “She was landing lots of interviews at banks.” 

Alternatively, if you have friends who work at companies you’re interested in, ask for a referral and focus on creating a targeted pitch deck, customized cover letter, or portfolio project to highlight your skills specifically for that employer. 

2. Experience – Start a project that will make you more competitive using real-world datasets, company case studies, and open-source code. For example, you can prototype an app for a startup you admire or ask your current employer if you can help solve IT support tickets. 

“Remember, you’re not asking for permission to be a designer or software developer if you’re already doing the thing,” says Woodin-Rodriguez. 

During job interviews, recruiters will inevitably ask what you’re working on. Make sure you have a captivating story to share. 

“One of my students, Janessa, was working as a shift lead at a pizza place,” says Woodin-Rodriguez. “She went to her boss and offered to redo their website.”

Offer to help friends and family with their websites or businesses, or apply to volunteer on Tech Fleet. 

3. Marketing materials – Think of your portfolio as marketing collateral. Would you hire yourself? Rate your portfolio on a scale of 1-10 regarding navigation, user-friendliness, and visual appeal. Do your portfolio, resume, and LinkedIn profile tell a compelling story?

4. Networking – Reflect on recent actions you’ve taken to build relationships at your top companies. Did you reach out to at least 3-5 contacts? Did you book at least one informational interview? When looking up company contacts, think about which professionals will help you get closer to your goals. “Go to company-specific or city-specific networking events,” advised Woodin-Rodriguez. “You can also search for more generalized networking opportunities on sites like ADPList and LunchClub.”

5. Storytelling – Are you prepared to interview at your dream company at a moment’s notice? You never know when you might meet someone who can connect you with an opportunity. Always be ready to tell your story. 

Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 in each of these areas, and choose one area of improvement to focus on for the next few weeks. 

5. Hone your focus and repeat

To avoid stress and overwhelm during the job search, avoid getting hung up on the outcome and focus on your inputs—concrete actions you can take to make yourself a more competitive candidate. 

Woodin-Rodriguez closed her session with a blueprint of action items for job seekers to focus on in the coming weeks:

  1. Choose one company to apply to where you think you have a good chance based on your portfolio, connections, and experience.
  2. Choose one project to work on based on that company. For example, if you’re targeting a fintech company, build a banking or cryptocurrency app. 
  3. Tell the story of your project on your portfolio, resume, and LinkedIn profile. 
  4. Contact three people who work at that company and ask for an informational interview. 
  5. Update your personal story to incorporate the project and any new skills you learned while working on it (eg: “I learned how to make tradeoffs between app security and the user experience by making two-factor authentication simpler”).

“The secret to landing a job is not discipline; it’s joy,” said Woodin-Rodriguez. “Joy comes from energy, and energy comes from momentum. Momentum comes from inputs, which depend solely on you.”

About Kindra Cooper

Kindra Cooper is a content writer at Springboard. She has worked as a journalist and content marketer in the US and Indonesia, covering everything from business and architecture to politics and the arts.