How Early is too Early to Start Applying for Jobs in College?
Software engineering is a competitive field, so how long should you wait?
My friends in the computer science program at our college started from day 1. I, on the other hand, took a couple of years to switch my major…so my friends were ahead of me in the program. As a result, they graduated sooner, before the 2000 tech bubble burst. Several of my friends interviewed and secured jobs during their senior year. They got good jobs with good salaries before they graduated.
The work my ahead-of-me friends did in school (which included some internships here and there) was enough to land each of them a great job. When I finished up the program and graduated a couple of years later, companies weren’t handing out jobs to anyone that walked by. I’m not implying that my friends merely walked by and ran into jobs, but I am saying that I didn’t get a job in my field for about two years because the job landscape had changed.
Now that things aren’t so easy, how far ahead of the game do you have to get? How soon before you are scheduled to graduate should you start applying for jobs? If you’re in your junior year, you’ve got up to two years before you graduate. Is that too early to start applying?
Yes, I think so. This is just my opinion, but I think that your time will be more effectively utilized by working on projects. Write some code. A lot of code.
I noticed a trend in the last couple of job hunts. Hiring managers want to see work. For some, that’s the work you did in your previous jobs. For others, that’s not enough. They want to see what you can do. If you don’t have any work experience as a software engineer — meaning you’re still at that big party university — you need to have projects you can show prospective employers.
When it’s a little early to start applying for jobs, because no hiring manager wants to hire someone for a job they can’t start for two years, you should be building up a portfolio of work. In this regard, coding is a little bit like art. If you want to get a job as a graphic designer, you have to show people your book. Your portfolio gets you in the door. The same is true for writing software.
Here are some software portfolio ideas to get your neurons firing.
- Have a website to showcase your work — something with your name in the domain. Show everyone your coding projects.
- Get your Github profile set up. Put your face up there, have projects, regular commits, and try to contribute to open-source projects. If you can show prospective employers that you can write code, use source control, and work with other people and teams, you’ll start to look like a great candidate.
- Build a website for anything (other than the one with your name). Show everyone you can create an online space for something. It doesn’t have to be pretty, and let’s face it…lots of coders have no graphic design skills. But that’s OK because this is about the code you wrote or modified.
- Build a mobile app. While it’s great to have a mobile app in the App Store or Google Play Store, the most important thing to show is that you understand mobile app development and can get something working.
- Build a game with Unity. Unity is a free game development engine, and it’s in use all over the world. Build a couple of simple desktop or mobile games you can show off. Even if you’re not looking to enter the gaming industry, coding a game shows ability. Also, games are fun.
- If you find that you’re pretty good at some particular language or that you can do one particular thing really well, do a screencast. Put yourself up on YouTube and teach others about that thing. Not only will it show technical competence, but also that you can communicate ideas effectively. The business side of prospective employers will love that. Effective communication is important in this career field.
Now that your brain has some ideas floating around, make a list. Get out a pen and paper and write down some things you can do to create a portfolio. Don’t just write down a to-do list or some head in the clouds wish list of things you could do at some point in the future. That will get you nowhere.
Write down what you can do today, and do it by the end of the day. Write down what you want to have accomplished by the end of the week, and then by the end of the month. Open up your Google or iOS calendar and time block yourself for these tasks. Set due dates and reminders so your phone will ding and vibrate at you to get your work done.
The payoff here is a really great job. That could mean a starting salary higher than if you do nothing. That could mean a job with a great work environment vs rolling into a job you hate every day. That could mean a fantastic opportunity in the city of your choice vs having to move halfway across the country to a place you find boring.
If it’s too early to start applying, you still have work you can do to set yourself up for a great start to your career. And if it’s not too early to start applying and you haven’t done any of this stuff yet, then you’d better get to work right now.
Do you want a good job or a bad job? I’ve had both, and a good job is way better than a bad job. Go do the work.