How to get the job even if you don't have prior relevant experiences?

I graduated a little more than a year ago. And to be honest, it wasn't easy for me to land an opportunity in Silicon Valley back then. I didn't have an education in computer science/mathematics nor have I worked in a tech firm before. There was a lot of sacrifices and struggles getting a job in a new industry. It is probably an understatement to say that I have learned some tips and tricks from this job hunting experience.

As such, in the spirit of "good craftsmanship", I thought I'd document some of the secrets that helped me along the way. Also, I've been getting a lot of requests for informational interviews, of which I am finding myself repeating the same advices. Don't get me wrong, I love helping and paying it forward for all those who have helped me in the past. But it is getting more challenging for me to articulate the advices as thoroughly as I could when it was still fresh in my mind a year ago. And so it is time for me to write it down before I forget all the details!

Anyways, I think these are the best advices I can offer young students & new grads who are looking for internships and jobs but don't necessarily have the chicken to hatch the egg. I won't talk about the most obvious ones - like making sure your resume is relevant, practicing lots of coding questions if coding is required, or strategies to tackle behavior questions. You can find them on google. There is no need for me to waste your time here. I am here to tell you what other's don't.

Advice 1: It is all maths

Finding a job when you are new to the industry is just math. How many job offers do you think you'll get if you applied to a thousand job postings? Well, if you were like me at the beginning of my job hunt, the answer is close to 0%. But that's okay; it is just a numbers game. Don't give up, keep at it, and you'll eventually get the job you want. The percentage will only go up if you keep improving and iterating.

Also you don't have all the time in the world to apply, so start early. Most people start applying when it is closer to January. Some privileged students can afford to do that if they have relevant experiences. But if you don't have the egg or the chicken, start a lot earlier. The earlier you start, the easier it will become.

Advice 2: Be grateful

This might sound obvious but when you are in a stressful setting and are completely focused on the question, you forget your blessings. There is a not only inherent health benefit to being grateful; you also appear more likable and approachable. Interviewers hire people whom they can trust and I can guarantee being grateful is the most natural way to earning that trust. I don't mean showing gratitude for the sake of passing an interview. Always be grateful. People can tell and it will help you in the long run as well.

Advice 3: The McDonald Rule

I don't know why but I've always call it the McDonald Rule, even though the name has very little context as to what it represents. I first heard it a few years ago when I was editing my resume for a role at P&G. My friend was helping me proofread when he asked me this - "Alex, you gotta think about resume writing like this - if you worked at McDonald as a cashier, can you write a job description such that no other cashier can write it but you?"

I thought about it for a bit...

You see, the typical resume will read like this - "Served McDonald customers and ensured 100% of orders were accurate and food delivery was successful." Nothing wrong with this description - it starts with a verb and ends with a numerical result as taught by our friendly career advisers. But some other cashier in the same position could write the exact same thing. A better version goes like this - "Served on avg 200 McDonald customers per hour with 100% order accuracy and was awarded the employee of the week award in May".

So what if you don't have something as impressive, like the employee of the week award? Well, you have two options then:

  1. Remove it. Your resume only gets a couple seconds with each recruiter. Don't allow him/her to stumble upon ANY description that is average or even above average.
  2. Do something that actually differentiates yourself from your classmate so that you can mention it in your resume (this is why you start early)

If you really understand this McDonald rule, you'll also happen to be VERY careful with the advice career counselors give you. They are great at standardizing your resume and making sure your communication is clear. BUT! They are not good at differentiating. You don't want your resume to look like the rest of your classmates. It needs to be different. As such, take their advice with a grain of salt and always seek for something better. Let me give you an example that I see too often with resumes; don't simply include course names since everyone applying will have taken similar courses. Instead, show how you mastered that class - top 10 percentile? Published your work? Won a competition in a field that's related to the course?

This is a hard skill to master but a worthy one to have under the belt.

Tips & Tricks I used to get an interview:

  1. Published my homework on LinkedIn to gain visibility
  2. Built an app with a buddy and made it available on the app store
  3. Built a tech startup
  4. Was not afraid of rewriting my entire resume if it wasn't good enough
  5. Good artists copy, great artists steal - got a hold of resumes that really stood out and learned what made them so great. The word 'steal' is an exaggeration but I hope you get the idea
  6. Had links on my resume (tinyURLs) to showcase my work

Tips & Tricks I used to pass the interview:

  1. I organized a private study group JUST to prep for tech interviews
  2. Did a bunch of mock interviews
  3. Sought out someone who HAVE passed the interview and listened to how they answered the most difficult questions
  4. I was always concise with my answers in an actual interview and showed gratitude

Hope this helps. Don't give up!