Hey, hackers! My name is Kari and I’m double majoring in Computer Science and Economics and minoring in Spanish at Vanderbilt University here in Nashville, Tennessee. Currently, my dream is to become a software engineer focused on the development of mobile devices and wearables! I am involved with just about everything tech-related in my community and am currently pursuing roles in software engineering.

While the job market has gotten more challenging for recent graduates and those new in their careers in the last couple years, companies are still looking for the right talent and it is more important than ever to make yourself stand out. As a college senior navigating my first full-time job search, I figured now was as good a time as any to share some tips for fellow hackers navigating the current job market!

Tip #1: Network! Get involved in your community and make connections

It is no secret that we are in a highly competitive job market these days. That’s why it is critical to get involved outside of classes to make yourself stand out to employers. Hackathons are an amazing place to meet and collaborate with both industry professionals and peers. I worked for 2 years as an organizer for VandyHacks, in addition to participating in other hackathons like WiCHacks and UA Innovate, and in January, I joined the Coaches program with Major League Hacking. I have to say, organizing and now coaching hackathons has had a huge impact on how I approach new challenges and has taught me a lot about what kind of work I really enjoy.

In my interviews, I am constantly talking about the teamwork and leadership strengths I developed at hackathons. Global Hack Week in particular has really allowed me to focus on putting together fun projects and growing my technical knowledge, which has been crucial for standing out in interviews. Hackathons are a fantastic way to work on various projects, but don’t think the journey ends there! There are tons of amazing ways to stay involved in programming through opportunities on and off-campus, so I would always encourage other hackers to leverage the communities available (like MLH of course!) to step out of their comfort zones.

Tip #2: Broaden your search

With so much competition for open roles, it can be tough to know where to look, especially when you’re just leaving college and don’t yet have years of experience and a broad network to draw from. It helps to broaden your search as wide as you’re comfortable with at first, then narrow in on specific opportunities and companies once the net has been cast. Personally, I have been relying a lot on the extended network I’ve made through MLH, my school, and the broader hacking community. In addition, I have been using broad online job boards like Indeed and ZipRecruiter to find positions.

Some of the best connections I’ve found have come from attending career fairs and conferences for community organizations, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). While I am primarily looking for software engineering roles in app development, as I would love to keep working with the technologies I use the most, I am keeping an open mind and looking at a wide variety of options. The time right after graduation may also be the perfect chance to explore a new area, so if you are willing to relocate, this can open tons of doors! I am really excited to take this time after graduation to explore a new place and am applying for opportunities all over the world.

Tip #3: Practice, practice, practice

Despite increased competition for roles, you’d be surprised how many applicants don’t put in the necessary preparation to be successful! When I apply for a role, I try to find out as much information about the specific team I will be a part of, as I find that to be the biggest indicator of my fit in a specific role. Especially in smaller companies, the experience can really be dependent on the team you are working with. While I am not the biggest fan of reaching out to recruiters and hiring managers unless we have already connected previously, it can help to speak with people working on the team you are applying for.

There are also tons of resources out there to help you perfect your cover letter and resume prior to ever sending out an application. I have personally tried a plethora of resume templates and editors, but have had the best luck with LaTeX, as it tends to produce the cleanest resumes which can be more easily parsed by automated applicant tracking systems. I have also created my own template using Overleaf that is tailored to my specifications.

Preparing for the interview itself is also an overlooked step in setting yourself up for success in the job market. There’s no secret recipe – the best way to prepare for interviews is by … doing interviews. That said, there are tons of things you can do in your spare time to stay prepared for when that recruiter calls to line up an interview! Design Gurus has an excellent course in Grokking the System Design Interview and Grind 75 is great for studying up for interview questions in advance. All of this extra practice will give you a leg up and help you be at ease and comfortable in high-pressure interviews.

Tip #4: Stay positive and persistent

Even in a challenging job market, there are tons of ways to make yourself stand out from other candidates. The right role will come along eventually if you are persistent. Use the time you have to your advantage – it is never a good time to stop learning. Continue working on your skills, even after you have found a role and stopped searching, and it will make the process even easier in the future!

Most importantly, remember that everything takes time. It is okay if you don’t have an offer yet or a whole list of opportunities to pick between. Rejections have taught me so much more than my successes, and they are just as important to learn lessons from. At the end of the day, the highs and the lows are all a part of your journey.

Interested in building a network with MLH?

Make sure to stay connected with Kari on LinkedIn! For more information on MLH and our community of industry professionals and like-minded peers, visit our website here. Happy job hunting!