How Do I Get Experience When No One Will Hire Me?

I’ve opened a Pandora’s box recently. I get myself riled up about things and then can’t let them go. In conversations about BEE, social investment, a society that is actually very negative and cynical despite how the “rainbow brigade” try to convince us otherwise. Two conversations got me thinking (#feesmustfall and BBBEE) about how much of a contribution I actually make to our society. I set off on a mission to make at least a little contribution beyond just feeding my family and paying my bills by helping battling youngsters (helping one young developer per week, aiming for 52 per year) rather than just focusing on the veteran level people who earn a lot more. The theory was awesome but it’s been a challenge, I must tell you. This challenge has led me here…

Caveat: I’m a specialist recruiter in the software development world. I am not qualified to comment on other industries. Please note this especially if you are a graduate in another domain. Forgive me, but I am just not capable of processing the hundreds of requests for help I get every week.

Graduates and junior developers often complain about battling to get opportunities. That there’s no work out there. The common question being; ‘how do I get experience if no one will hire people without experience’. The answer; there’s a world out there that wants you. There’s an entire industry thirsting to invest in young people but they’re declining you, why is that? You may not like this, but young developers are tossing themselves off the cliff. Society isn’t to blame, you are. You are literally making your own life as difficult as you can. Here’s why:

  1. So you’ve finished your qualification. So what? Our development world is grade A, your qualification means nothing yet. Hell, some of the best developers I know barely squeaked through matric. Your qualification is a door opener.
  2. Job hunting is hard work. Your qualification is not the finish line, not even close. It’s not even the starting line. Now is not the time to relax. You have not arrived in nirvana (you never do btw, you just get better at working harder or smarter).
  3. You expect your employer to be more invested in your career than you are; I’ve had at least one unusually influential CEO use these actual words. Are you serious? I won’t hire someone where I know I will have to drive them rather than the other way around.

You don’t have the right to demand meaningful work. You’ve got to graft for it and graft hard. Please, please, please listen to me and follow some basic advice below:

  • Through this process, I have spoken to more graduates than I have in the previous 18 years of recruiting for software development. Most of you make me chase, cajole, beg and plead with you to get what I need. I expend more energy on you than I do on any single one veteran. The thing is, we don’t make money on your placement, we do this to contribute. If you make recruiters work hard to help you, you are going to get declined out of sheer frustration. You have more time than any single one of us. Act quickly, enthusiastically and immediately.
  • Your communication skills often suck. The minute I see text speak I decline you, I do not look any further. The minute I get a half-arsed email making it appear as though you believe me to be the drinking buddy you are about to meet you in the local pub, you are gone. I respect that in many cases English is a 2nd sometimes 3rd  language, I have represented people where English is 6th or 7th. We are African, we don’t speak the Queen’s English but code is a language as well and we’ll make assumptions about your code by your written English. If you can’t make an effort, neither can I. 
  • Don’t call us up and throw attitude our way.  I don’t expect ‘yes people’ but at your level, we’re looking for personality, not a belief that the world owes you a favour and this is true of anyone with the power to make you an offer. Senior people are busy, under pressure and often making time to speak with you, throw attitude and it becomes easier to do it ourselves than to teach you.
  • It’s my opinion that choosing a profession like coding is closer to being a professional athlete than most others. Rocking up to Kaizer Chiefs with a doughnut in your hand is going to get you laughed at. This is a profession where you need to train, all the time, as often as you can, every day. The South African industry is not a weak, third world affair. These developers are skilled, passionate, highly intelligent and busy. They will not hire you because you’ve finished your degree, MCSD, diploma etc They will hire you because of what you can produce.
  • You need to practice coding. Now is the one period in your life when you have the time. If you are not, you put yourself in the hands of luck. I respect that so many of you don’t have money, this does not have to be a costly affair but many of you never take that step. A simple Google search brings up lists of options ranging from Wethinkcode, Xamarinalliance, the MVA, Codewars, Codebyte, Topcoder and the list goes on (vets, what are your favourites?Are there better, free options?). It does not need to cost you money, to be fair I do assume that if you’ve completed a computer science course of some description that you do have a laptop or machine of some sort.
  • It’s also very useful to get yourself to the various code meetups happening around the country. There are lists and lists, ranging from big 100 + people ( is coming on 15 July this year) to small 10/15 people meetups which are usually free and driven by passion not an organisation.

It’s very hard to find work if you’ve just completed a course somewhere and that’s where you’ve left it. It’s simply not enough in the profession you’ve chosen. Arrive with an open mind, a smile and a cool attitude and I believe that 90% of senior people in this country will bend over to help you. That person who did the same course as you, who’s getting paid such a nice salary? You know that person? They did the above.

Forget about the world owing you a favour. Finishing your course at best takes you to the start line. Now the hard work begins but it doesn’t have to be soul destroying; not if you take your destiny into your own hands. Finding work is a full-time job for veteran developers, for you, it becomes a lifestyle until you’ve built up the experience to add value.

Your first job is likely to be an investment hire. Make sure you are worth investing in. This is a passion project for me, I’d really appreciate any input from veteran people here. If you’ve graduated recently and think you’re worth a chance, drop Jason your CV now. Give us your thoughts on how graduates get into the market. How did you find your first job? What are you looking for in youngsters you hire?

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