1. Upskill and stay current with the latest technologies
Set yourself apart from other candidates by continuously learning and improving your skills. Take advantage of online courses, webinars, and conferences to learn new skills or deepen your knowledge of existing ones. This will not only make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers, but it will help you stay relevant in a constantly changing industry.
Examine your skills to know what you’re good at and where your weaknesses lie. You could even reach out to former managers and peers to get feedback on where you can improve. Being honest about your limits offers you a clearer path forward — and helps you fill any gaps sooner than later.
Which skills are in demand now for software engineers? Ruby on Rails took the top spot according to Hired’s 2023 State of Software Engineers report. Engineers skilled in this framework received 1.64x more interview requests compared to the marketplace average revealing demand by employers.
The takeaway? It’s becoming more and more of a specialist market. Beyond Ruby on Rails, we’re also seeing growing demand for engineers with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence expertise. According to our data, ML Engineers earn 20% more than software engineers not focused on Machine Learning.
Hired CTO Dave Walters says, “Many employers like to see that engineers are continuing to push themselves to learn. One of the easiest ways is to show you have been playing around on the side with some other languages. Read books continually, articles, listen to podcasts, watch videos. Those are fantastic ways to continue to stay up to speed on what is evolving in the industry. Have regular technical discussions with other top software engineers in your circle.”
To keep you motivated in upskilling, take this piece of advice from LaShawnda Rodgers, VP of Community Outreach for Blacks In Technology: “Remember, the unfamiliar is scary but necessary for growth. Change your language about things that are unfamiliar. Instead of saying, ‘I have no knowledge of XYZ,’ say ‘I am in the process of learning about XYZ.’”
2. Market yourself
Show off your accomplishments and your potential!
Include key updates such as recent successes, milestones, and quantitative metrics. You’ll also want to identify the experiences that really tie into the state of the job market and what it demands.
Jeff Surrett, Engineering Manager at applicant tracking system Greenhouse, says, “Tailoring your resume to the specific job you're looking at and highlighting your abilities and how they will address the specific needs that company has is very important. Don't just send out a generic resume. Make sure you can address these specific issues the industry has.”
Instead of applying for general SWE roles – can you narrow your focus to roles where you’d be a uniquely strong fit? For example, did you spend the last 5 years working at a bank (even if not a software engineering role)? If so, you’d be a great fit for an engineering role at a fintech company given that you have a deeper understanding of financial systems. Tailor your resume, application, and outreach with the end role in mind!
Here are a few tips to help you anticipate what an employer is looking for in the ideal candidate:
- Read the job description carefully. What are they seeking that you should value? There will be clues so keep an eye out for them.
- Use those hints to demonstrate in the context of their company how you can solve their problems and challenges.
- Unsure of what their hiring process entails? It’s okay to ask! If they share more information, you might find out what to expect. There’s no doubt that will help squash some fear and support your preparation.
- It’s also acceptable during an interview to ask if the interviewer is looking for anything specific.
3. Track your wins
Speaking of highlighting all your abilities, it can be easy to forget all the impressive things you’ve done throughout your career. Creating a “wins folder” or a “brag sheet” is a great way to track professional achievements and reinforce your worth.
Here are some ideas of what you can save in yours:
- Positive feedback, performance reviews, or project assessments
- Benchmarks and goals you hit in previous roles (efficiencies realized, deadlines achieved, etc.)
- Promotions and any strong evaluations from colleagues, supervisors, or customers
- Previous job offers – and feedback from the interview process
4. Tap into your network
Networking is a crucial part of any job search, and it's especially important in a tough economic market. Candidates who’ve been referred in for a job are 4x more likely to be hired than those who apply through an online job posting.
Attend virtual industry events, join online professional groups, and connect with other professionals in your field.
Your own network is one of the best sources you have for job offers and hires, and it might be more powerful than you think. Reach out to former colleagues or classmates to see if they know of any job openings or can introduce you to someone in their network.
Jeff Surrett explains, “One of the things with the highest return on investment for most recruiting teams is to look first at job referrals. If there's any way you can build up your network, whether that's in friends or contacts, going to meetups, other social opportunities… Getting some contacts seeing what's available and then reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, is there anything in your companies?’ Getting a job referral is probably the best way to be able to get a foot in the door.”
Did you know referrals are 4X more likely to be hired? It’s a great reason to lean into your network to help get your foot in the door. People may offer to introduce you to recruiters or hiring managers and if you ask them about their company’s referral program, chances are they can cash in on you getting the job, making it a win-win for both parties.
Do your research on open roles and make it easy for people to connect with you. While cold outreach may be out of your comfort zone, it’s worth practicing during the job hunt.
Keep your messages brief, concise, and personable – but make sure to be specific about what you’re hoping to learn from the call. Many people have an aversion to generic messages where you ask to “pick their brain” – instead include 3-4 questions that you hope to ask in bullet points.
Look for common ground (Did you both go to the same school? Are you from the same hometown? etc.), offer to exchange ideas, or simply be polite and transparent about the assistance you are seeking. More often than not, people are willing to share their insights and connect, especially if they see you as genuine.
If you’re looking to expand your professional network, attend tech or developer meetups. Browse sites like Eventbrite, Facebook, or Meetup for local events. Let’s say you just learned Ruby. You can find nearby meetups where you can learn from developers skilled in Ruby to get a sense of roles aligning with your experience. While this might not be a direct connection to a job opportunity, you’re taking advantage of the chance to attain valuable insight into career development and see if it matches what you’ve established in your career narrative.
5. Showcase your soft skills
As a software engineer, your technical expertise will certainly take you far. However, soft skills are crucial to highlight as a part of your career that can’t be captured in your role title or as part of your education. Despite your immersion in a world of technology, don’t lose touch with the human side of things.
Employers are increasingly looking for candidates who are strong communicators, team players, and adaptable. Highlight these in your resume and/or cover letter, and be prepared to discuss them in interviews. Employers want to know you can work well with others and adapt to changing circumstances.
Dave Walters suggests, “Focus on your soft skills. Communication, time management, open mindedness, etc. These skills are more important than you think. They're not just for managers. Any significant deficiencies in these soft skills are going to hold you back in your career.”
Erik Andersen, Senior Software Engineer at Yum! Brands and self-proclaimed “world’s happiest software engineer” bluntly reminds developers, “No matter how good you are at programming, nobody wants to work with a jerk. Communication, collaboration, problem-solving, time management, etc. While we use the term 'individual contributor’ to define the typical software engineering role, I think in a majority of these companies, they should really be called ‘team contributor’ roles as you're working closely with others. Your work will impact others so any team-oriented soft skill would apply.
As a candidate, you should lean into your soft skills and make them your differentiator. For example, if you were in a customer service role before, talk about your experience with conflict resolution… If you're coming from a nontraditional background, you probably have some experience in the real world that may have driven why you want to learn programming in the first place.”
Don’t dismiss the importance of soft skills, even if they don’t feel as critical as technical capabilities. They can be powerful enough to help you land your next job.
6. Be flexible and open to new opportunities
Finally, in a tough job market, it's important to be flexible and open to new opportunities. Consider contract or freelance work. In addition to bolstering your BATNA, part-time roles can be a great way to gain experience, build your network, and demonstrate your skills to potential employers. Consider jobs outside of your immediate area of expertise.
While the current market may seem challenging, there are still steps you can take to position yourself for success and land your dream job.
Ready to start the job search? Complete your free profile with Hired and let employers come to you!