What Recruiters Look For in a Coding Bootcamp Grad
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By Imogen Crispe
Last Updated February 2, 2018
What do tech recruiters want? It’s a difficult question for a new coding bootcamp grad to answer, so we asked a former recruiter to give us some insight. TJ Kinion is the Program Manager at LearningFuze coding bootcamp in Southern California, and as a former recruiter, he’s interviewed hundreds of candidates for tech roles. Now he’s tasked with preparing LearningFuze students for the job search when they graduate. TJ explains which technical and soft skills recruiters are looking for, how to approach a recruiter, and how bootcamp grads can prove themselves in the interview.
What makes a coding bootcamp grad employable, from a recruiter’s perspective?
Bootcamp graduates have put their career on hold to gain real-world technical and collaborative skills to hit the ground running in a new job.
For about three months, they've put aside other distractions to focus on programming and have clearly determined that web development is their passion.
Because of the time and money they’ve committed, bootcamp graduates are driven, hungry, and excited about becoming a developer and contributing to a company.
They have worked on real world applications and have brought their own application ideas to fruition in a dev-like environment.
Which technical skills are recruiters looking for in a coding bootcamp graduate?
The most important thing is to find your specialty:
Decide if you prefer front end or back end, and then develop your skills accordingly. At LearningFuze, we cover the full stack but when you're entering the job market, full stack development is somewhat of a misnomer; you’ll usually be a strong front end developer with good back end skills, or a really strong back end developer with some front end skills and everything in between.
For a back end developer, work on databases, logic, as well as server side languages. At LearningFuze, students focus on PHP and NodeJS, then choose between MySQL and Mongo. Good back end developers should also have strong attention to detail skills.
You want to be able to demonstrate to an employer that you can hit the ground running by showcasing full-scale applications you have built with key languages and technologies. If you try to be a “jack of all trades” you may come across as the master of none and raise questions about your skills. Graduates need to be careful about over claiming the skills they possess.
What soft skills do recruiters look for in a junior software developer?
Communication is key. Today, the typical developer no longer sits in the back room without interacting with anybody. You have to be able to talk to not only your manager and your coworkers on your dev team, but also people from other departments.
Ask the right questions. A lot of companies and hiring managers understand you won’t know everything on Day One. But you also need to make sure that when you ask questions, you ask them from an intelligent and thoughtful standpoint. There are no stupid questions, but there are lazy questions. When you ask somebody a question, talk through your thought process, what you've tried, what you think the issue is, then that person can jump in and help find a solution.
If a junior developer demonstrates those skills, I think a manager will be more willing to take a risk on them, even if the technical skills aren’t completely formed in all areas. Having strong technical skills and real-world project experience is important, but when you're talking about intangibles and less technical skills, clear, thoughtful communication is so important.
How much weight do recruiters put on the pre-bootcamp background of a coding bootcamp graduate?
Usually, it comes down to the position for which the recruiter is hiring. If a client from the finance industry is looking for a developer, then it will be easier to take a chance on a bootcamp grad who has come from a background in finance because they have industry knowledge. Sometimes it’s also easier to get your foot in the door in an industry where you have experience.
Look at your experience and how it can translate into your role as a developer:
If you were a manager, no matter what industry you were in, those hiring, training, scheduling, budgeting, management, and people skills are going to automatically translate to the next position.
Other translatable skills include any technical skills that demonstrate an ability to think logically or solve problems.
Critical thinking skills are something many people overlook, but when developed properly can be extremely useful.
If you have been promoted in a previous job, highlight that in your resume to demonstrate that you performed well and others had confidence in your ability.
A lot of my conversations with LearningFuze students as we go through the mock interview process are about pulling out their transferable skills. There are so many different aspects of a job that can make you a stronger candidate, not only in a web development career, but also in any professional environment.
What are your tips for interviewing with a recruiter?
I’ve sat through thousands of interviews – great ones and horrendous ones. While there's no perfect way to interview, it's more about avoiding certain mistakes.
Starting the interview
Many interviews start with, "Tell me about yourself." If you're able to answer that question and get the ball rolling from there, you've now gained some control over the rest of the interview, or at least changed the vibe to more of a conversation than an interview.
Ending the interview
Ask, "Do you have any concerns about my skillset for this role that I can address?" If an interviewer misses something, it’s an opportunity to fill that gap
Ask for a timeline. Many interviewees come out of an interview and aren’t sure when they should follow up about the position. If you ask for a timeline, it’s much easier know when it’s acceptable to follow up, and whether it is going to be a long interview process.
Reiterate your interest in the position. I’ve had clients who would rule somebody out because they didn't say how interested they were. It seems self-explanatory that you're interested in the position, but if that's the deciding factor between you and another candidate, why not reiterate that interest?
I want LearningFuze students to come out of an interview as the person who the interviewer remembered because they demonstrated passion for their final project or showed more passion for code than other interviewees.
What do recruiters think of the coding bootcamp model?
A coding bootcamp may only be three months, but students spend at least 12 hours a day programming. So when you compare that to a traditional computer science degree, the hours don't add up. Bootcamp students are doing so much more hands-on learning.
The first time I came across the bootcamp model was with Lighthouse Labs in 2014 in Toronto. A local company needed 50 junior developers and was looking for fresh computer science graduates. The first bootcamp graduate I met showed me what he had built, and, I kid you not, it was outstanding, and in many cases far exceeded what others had built with more experience or even a degree. In the end, most companies really are interested in what candidates are able to build and do for the company.
How can bootcamp grads prove themselves to recruiters?
What really helps a manager understand what was taught and learned in a bootcamp is showcasing candidate portfolios and projects. I've talked with a lot of recruiters in the Southern California marketplace and they all realize that it’s about seeing what someone can build. No matter what, get the recruiter to take a look at your projects.
Getting a recruiter or hiring manager to take a leap of faith and poke around somebody's GitHub to see if they can write quality code is where I see the best luck with getting past that bootcamp “stigma.” Recruiters and employers are surprised to see the languages LearningFuze students learn, that we cover the Agile Methodology, and that students work on real-world projects.
How often do recruiters require computer science degrees?
Though I see companies requiring computer science degrees, it really depends on the company and what they're looking for in an employee. If a company is looking for somebody who can speak in detail about the theory behind software engineering and algorithms, then it is understandable that they may need a computer science graduate.
Often when I'm reaching out to hiring managers and talking to them about the requirements, it comes down to, "So if they don't have a computer science degree, what have they done? Let me see some examples of their work." I see hiring managers moving away from that degree requirement. At a coding bootcamp like LearningFuze, we're not teaching systems networking, we're focusing on building products. That's where the difference really lies between a computer science degree and a coding bootcamp curriculum.
How can a bootcamp grad make sure they stand out amongst the competition?
Build and maintain an online portfolio. For some people, a leap of faith on a computer science graduate can be easier, than a leap of faith with a bootcamp grad if there is no portfolio available to demonstrate their work.
Showcase projects you've built during the bootcamp on your resume. Take that resume from “here's who I am” to “here's who I am and why I'm great for the role.”
Direct your resume towards the jobs that you're applying for. There’s no point having only back end applications in your portfolio if you're applying for front end roles.
Make sure your resume is clean and easy to navigate, so a recruiter or hiring manager can quickly find your skills.
What is the best approach to take when reaching out to a recruiter?
There are two types of recruiters, each of which require a slightly different approach.
Recruiters at a staffing company:
Shoot them an email, or pick up the phone and tell them what you're looking for and who you are. They should be happy to talk to you and learn about your skill set.
They may not have a position at the time, but at least you're now part of their database and they can reach out to you when something comes up.
It's a two-way street: recruiters are looking for people with skills to fill a client’s demand. Make sure that a recruiter is working for you; not seeing you as another cog in the wheel.
Stick to your guns about the types of jobs you’re looking for, the types of companies you want to work for, and your salary expectations. It's easy for recruiters to sell you into a different position to fulfill a client request.
Have three or four recruiters keeping an eye out for you, who know you, and have your best interests in mind.
Internal recruiters at a company:
Their role is focused on finding candidates for their own company’s job listings, so the dynamics will change.
Research that company first, then immediately reach out to the recruiter.
Alternatively, submit an email with a cover letter and resume and ask to be kept in mind for future roles. Only about 30% of jobs get filled through external posting; 70% are through internal referrals, or networking, so if you’re proactive you could have amazing timing and if they’re hiring for a role that hasn't been posted.
What should coding bootcampers learn about job seeking?
Throughout LearningFuze, I teach a number of topics to students, including:
Resume building. Students start on their resumes early so that they can add to them during the rest of the program to make themselves a more attractive candidate. Having a technical resume with live links to a portfolio and GitHub account is critical.
Online presence workshop where we go over online resources like LinkedIn and Twitter. If your LinkedIn has no picture, there’s a 30% less chance you will get clicked on.
A portfolio overview and workshop where we help students decide which projects to showcase in a portfolio and also provide QA support.
A mock interview which focuses on the "tell me about yourself" question and building your story about what you were doing before LearningFuze, what brought you here, and what you built at bootcamp to make you a great fit for the role.
Technical interview practice. We'd rather you stressed out in an interview at LearningFuze, than in a real interview. It’s about practice and building confidence. Then we do two whiteboarding exercises to hone students’ collaborative problem solving skills.
Networking and job navigation presentations and workshop where we talk about networking and navigating job boards. You can find a job through networking without even having to apply. We look at finding the right job boards, the right positions, creating saved searches to get job notifications, and knowing which positions to spend lots of time on – if you're submitting applications online, only about 2% will get a response.
How to deal with recruiters. We cover proper communication through email and on the phone, how to handle yourself when talking about job offers and negotiating salary.
My goal is to have every one of our graduates be the type of employee that a future manager is excited to bring on board. I don't want LearningFuze graduates sitting in a back room and coding with their heads down. I want them making suggestions and contributing to a dev team.
One of the toughest things for me as a recruiter was talking to junior developers who had just finished a computer science program but didn't know what they wanted in a career. I want LearningFuze students to graduate with a hunger, excited to develop and hit the ground running!
Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.