Job Search

How to get your first job as a career changer

Let's be honest, job hunting is nerve-wracking, especially as a career changer. Don't worry - we'll help you develop a customized plan that works.

Yu Chen
October 1, 2021

Let's be honest, job hunting is nerve-wracking. You spend a ton of time preparing, going through rounds of interviews, and can end up getting rejected, or even worse, ghosted. 

As a career changer, the process seems even more daunting. You’re in the dark about the hiring process. You have less experience. And, fewer people in your network can help you prepare...

Well take a deep breath and don't worry - the path for career changers into tech is surprisingly well trodden. Thousands of coding bootcamp grads find jobs every year, and you can too.  

A little about me first - I’ve changed careers several times, from tech startups to management consulting to Google. I’ve also worked with students at Flatiron School, a top coding bootcamp. I’m now taking all that I’ve learned and building a data engineering bootcamp, Jigsaw Labs.

So let's get started, and help you design a job search strategy that’s works for you!

Your career isn’t a ladder, it’s a jungle gym

Let’s address the misconception of the career ladder. In an interview, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that when she looks back on her life, her career looks like a jungle gym (interview). If you force yourself to climb a ladder,  “you’re going to miss all the good stuff — all the good stuff hasn’t been invented yet!”. 

This is especially true for the tech industry, where new technologies and roles are emerging every year. As a career changer, this is great news for you! It means that you aren’t that different from the other applicants, and your unique skill set can actually help you stand out. 

So let’s figure out how to highlight your unique advantage and position yourself in the best light.

Exercise 1: What’s unique about you?

Let’s start with an exercise. We’ll collect information to use to articulate your skills, your impact, and the value you bring to a role. 

Look back on your work history, and take a few minutes to fill out the worksheet below. Don’t overthink your answers, just focus on the highlights. If you’re a recent college grad, feel free to include class projects and internships. We’ll refine the answers later.

Now take a step back and look at this worksheet again. Hopefully you’re realizing that you have many valuable and transferable skills! Let’s move on to the next section - connecting the dots from where you are to where you want to go.

Exercise 2: How to pitch yourself

Now let’s re-package your experiences and customize your pitch. For this exercise, pull up a few job listings that you want to apply to.

Then, think back to the jungle gym analogy. You’re moving to the next rung in your career. Maybe it’s a lateral move, which could mean you’re staying in a similar position, but changing industries. Maybe you’re trying to climb diagonally, where you’re changing both roles and industry, but will still be using many of the same skills as you did in a previous position. For both climbing on the playground and changing jobs, it’s easier to move in one direction at a time, rather than multiple directions (diagonally). 

So for example, if you’re currently a data analyst, it’ll be much easier for you to remain a data analyst or switch to a junior data engineer role, than to move to a machine learning engineer role.

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. They want to hire somebody who’ll be able to quickly perform on the job, and grow with the company over the long run. Your aim is to de-risk the hiring manager’s decision, and convince them that you’d be a great fit, in spite of your more unconventional path. You want to show that you check off most of their boxes, and will be able to pick up the rest of the skills pretty quickly. 

Let’s go back to our worksheet. Fill in this new version to identify what existing skills you can leverage in the new job, and what part of that job will be a stretch for you. Remember, it will be easier for the hiring manager to say yes if you have lots of transferable skills, and they only need to take a risk on a few things.

Using the completed this version of the worksheet, you should be able to:

  • Find and target job listings where you have a lot of transferable skills
  • Craft your pitch to highlight your value and transferable skills, while showing that you’re eager to learn new ones.
  • Identify and fill in the gaps in your skills - identify the common “skills I don’t have” and start learning them.

Exercise 3: Craft your elevator pitch

Now let's put everything together, and craft your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short and memorable 30 second summary of yourself, and why you're a great fit for the role. Now that you have the worksheet, you can remix these building blocks and customize your pitch to the occasion. You can create longer or shorter versions, and also focus on different skills and interests that are appropriate for the job. 

Let’s take a look at these examples for somebody who’s transitioning from an analyst role. I’ve created two examples, one where they’re only changing companies, and another where they’re also transitioning to a data engineering role. Pay attention to how I reworked much of the same content to target the different roles. Then, try doing this with the job listings that you used for the last exercise.

Bonus section - the STAR framework

Finally, let's address some common mistakes that job candidates make when crafting their pitch or writing their resume. The root problem is, candidates often don’t put themselves in the shoes of the hiring manager. Remember, these people have very little time to read each resume, and have almost zero context on your previous roles. 

So, candidates often make it difficult for someone else to figure out exactly what happened and how the candidate contributed.

A great framework for presenting your experiences in this situation is the STAR framework. Let’s break it down. STAR is an acronym that stands for:

  • Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
  • Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
  • Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
  • Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.

Want to switch to a career in data engineering?

Thanks for reading this far! If you enjoyed our advice, and are interested in a career in data science or engineering, take a look through our site and book time with us to learn more!