Software development continues to be an incredibly popular career choice, and it’s not hard to see why. In addition to being a challenging, dynamic profession, software developers make a median salary of around $100,000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. Job satisfaction in software development is generally good, according to U.S. News and World Report, with software development ranking second among best technology jobs.

All this might lead you to believe that it’s difficult to get a job in programming, but the good news is that the field is growing quickly. Career growth for software development is much faster than average, according to the BLS. This doesn’t mean you can expect to walk into a high-paying programming job right away; there are some things to keep in mind when you’re looking for your first programming job.

Building Your Skill Set

The right skill set is important, but it may not mean what you think it means. Any software developer needs to know how to code. Learning languages like Java, Python, .NET/C# or any of the others listed on the TIOBE Index is a good start, but there’s more to being a developer than simply knowing how to program.

Useful Skills

A good developer has a combination of hard and soft skills. Knowing the programming languages that your employer needs is key, but so is knowing how to write, how to collaborate with other developers and how to work with existing code. Learning a programming language can teach you the basics of what you’re going to be doing on a day-to-day basis, but there are quite a few valuable skills that programming classes simply don’t teach you.

Knowing how to work with version control systems, how to effectively comment your code, how to use regular expressions and how to program with the real world and real people in mind are all vital in any live working situation. Most programmers don’t work in isolation either; knowing how to work with a team is necessary, because even skilled programmers are unlikely to advance if they can’t effectively work with and support their coworkers.

Standing Out From the Competition

It’s true that programming jobs are growing more common, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to get those jobs. There may be high demand, but the supply is large too. So how does a junior developer stand out?

As with many jobs, it’s often about small details. Do you have referrals from the right people? Do you carry yourself well? Do you dress professionally? Can you speak with authority? Contacting a hiring manager directly can be a useful tactic, and it’s important to ensure that you emphasize accomplishments rather than skills. A skill is a theoretical competency, while an accomplishment is proof of that competency.

How to Prepare for Your First Programming Job

Once you’ve got the right skills under your belt and have paid attention to the details, the question becomes: How do you present yourself to a potential employer? Hiring managers and employers often hire for comfort; skills being roughly equal, the job will go to the person who makes the best impression.

 Preparing a Resume

As was mentioned previously, showcase your achievements. If you have credentials or projects under your belt, put them on your resume. In addition to your programming skills, soft skills are incredibly important to employers, but employers aren’t looking for a list of skills. Instead, find ways to tell employers a concise story of how you’d be valuable to them.

From a visual perspective, ensuring that your resume is clean, attractive and guides the reader’s eye where you want it to go is important. Hiring managers scan numerous resumes during an employee search, and making their job as easy as possible helps distinguish you from less considerate candidates. To that end, make it easy for bots to crawl your resume. Use popular keywords where possible, even if it means replacing something on your resume with a synonym. Including the right keywords on your resume can help you get through job search engines or get noticed on sites like Dice.com.

Handling the Interview

Giving a good job interview is a subtle skill, and there are a number of things hiring managers want out of an interviewee. Show up early, but not too early; 10 minutes is good, because showing up too early can put pressure on hiring managers to interrupt what they’re doing and can annoy them. Talk about your skills and accomplishments, but do so through stories. Telling stories about things you’ve actually done is much more illustrative of your abilities and also gives hiring managers a taste of your personality.

Be authentic. Be honest. Be as objective as you can be about your accomplishments and skills, and be enthusiastic about what you do and what you want to do for the company. An interview is not an informal chat, so be professional in your dress, behavior and speech, but don’t be afraid to be funny and friendly. A big part of a hiring manager’s job is to ensure that you’ll fit into the company’s culture, and letting some of your personality show through helps the employer decide whether or not you’re right for the company.

Always thank your interviewers for their time, and sending a hand-written thank-you note after the interview can be a great way to differentiate yourself from your competition.

Finding the Right Company

Targeting a specific company or companies to work for — rather than applying on job boards — gives you an 80 percent likelihood of landing a job, LinkedIn says. Because you’re targeting a company that interests you, it can lead to a much better culture fit too. When you’re looking for your first programming job, do some research on employers in the area you want to work. Find out what you can about them, meet people who work for those companies, and do what you can to narrow your search to a small number of companies. If you know people at these companies, it can make getting the interview that much easier.

When you’re looking for a job with the right corporate culture for you, there are a number of tools at your disposal. LinkedIn and Glassdoor are useful for finding out what employees think of the company, and the company’s website can say a lot about what kind of place it is to work. Talking to actual employees is the most effective way to learn about a company’s culture and has the side benefit of getting people inside the company invested in you.

Follow through on this research in the interview. Companies tend to take notice of interviewees who seem to know a lot about them, and an interview can be an excellent opportunity to learn more about corporate culture and demonstrate your ability to fit in.

 Enrolling in a Bootcamp

A coding bootcamp can be a great way to build skills you might need for a job at a particular company. Here at The Software Guild, an apprentice can learn a programming language in a relatively short (12-week) period of time, with a strong focus on practical and soft skills.

Coding bootcamps can also be fantastic places to build your network. Fellow students, instructors and the employer network you are able to access through the bootcamp can help you find your first programming job.

What to Expect

If you’ve done your research on the company, you’ll know a lot of what to expect when you start work. As a junior developer, be willing to ask questions and learn. Be receptive to your teammates. Believe in your ability to get the job done, but ask for help when you aren’t sure what’s expected of you or if you’re not sure how to accomplish a task. It’s crucial, though, not to ask questions or ask for the same help too often; coworkers don’t usually mind helping a new hire, but someone who doesn’t seem to learn is likely to become a nuisance quickly.

This thread on StackExchange is full of excellent advice for first-time programmers.

Learning the Skills You Need

A coding bootcamp can be an invaluable resource if you’re looking to get your first programming job. Regardless of whether you choose to learn Java or C#/.NET, The Software Guild’s coding bootcamp can help. The Guild offers a 12-week full-time program or a ten-month online program as a part-time option, so you can learn your first programming language with the help of skilled instructors at a pace that works for your life. Upon completion, you’ll be prepared for junior developer positions in either Java or C#/.NET. Apply to the coding bootcamp today.