How to Find an Entry-Level Job in Tech
Where to look when you want to find your first job in tech
If you want to find an entry-level job in tech, chances are, you’ve spent a lot of time researching what skills you need to know to get hired. But actually applying for jobs brings up a whole other set of questions.
Job boards can be confusing. Job descriptions, with their endless lists of requirements, can be intimidating. And it can be hard to know whether or not you’re actually qualified for the positions you’re interested in.
My goal in this article is to explain exactly how to find an entry-level job in tech, so you can feel confident applying for the roles you want.
- How to tell if a job really is entry-level
- Where to find an entry-level tech job
- Why it’s important to stay open-minded
- How to know you’re qualified for a position
- How COVID-19 may impact your search
How do I know if a job is really entry-level?
Though this may seem like a straightforward question, it doesn’t have a straightforward answer. There are entry-level jobs in most areas of specialization: front end developer jobs, entry-level web designer jobs, entry-level digital marketer jobs…and the list goes on. But the main problem you’ll run into on your job search is that an entry-level position won’t always include “entry-level” or “junior” in the job title itself.
Sometimes tech jobs that could be great for beginners are hidden inside companies or departments where you might not know to look. For example, you can find jobs that require coding fundamentals on marketing, media, and editorial teams. The roles might not have “developer” in the job title, but if they make use of your new skills, you can still see it as an opportunity to start working in tech.
According to Caro Griffin, Skillcrush Director of Operations:
Lots of entry-level coding jobs are on non-technical teams and may have less obvious titles. For a while there, I was seeing lots of junior developer jobs on non-technical teams go by titles like ‘Marketing Assistant.’ It didn’t look like a dev job on the surface but, when you studied the job description, a big part of the role was coding up custom email templates, making graphics, and other tasks that were well suited for a junior developer with some design skills.
Keep an eye out for other roles like this, that require managing a blog, email database, or other online content. You might find something that is exciting to you and makes use of your new skills.
Not all developer jobs are labeled “junior” either. You’ll have to do a little research to determine if a job is actually entry-level.
Skillcrush alum Michelle Nguyen landed her first UX/UI job with the social media startup PlaceRate. Her job title? Simply UX/UI designer (no “junior” attached to the position at all).
And Teni Coker, another Skillcrush alum, was hired at Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com) with the fancy title, “Happiness Engineer.” At first glance, it would be impossible to know that a Happiness Engineer at Automattic is an IT customer support role that’s great for tech newbies continuing to build up skills.
On the other hand, some positions that clearly state that they are junior-level may not be quite so junior afterall. Take a look at this junior web developer job post from Indeed. It may have the word “junior” in the job title, but it also says that applicants should have five years of experience!
That’s why it’s best not to put too much stock in job titles themselves, and pay extra attention to job descriptions.
Sorting through job boards and finding entry-level roles in tech can be frustrating, but it’s definitely something you can figure out. And if you approach it the right way, you don’t have to sink as much time into it. So let’s talk about where to find these jobs.
Where do I find an entry-level tech job?
Online job boards
Most people start their job search by browsing online job boards. There are obviously the larger job boards, like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Monster, where you can find job listings for anything and everything — from Post Doctoral Research Associate to Virtual Escape Room Puzzle Master (yes, that’s a real job title I came across on Indeed).
But Caro actually suggests browsing smaller or niche job boards, and clicking through to all of the job descriptions that look even remotely relevant (which would be an overwhelming task on some of the larger boards).
There are a bunch of remote job boards out there, like PowerToFly (free membership required), FlexJobs (paid membership required), and Virtual Vocations (paid membership required for full access). But right now, everything is remote, so don’t limit yourself to only those.
Some other helpful, targeted job boards include:
- Tech Ladies, aimed at connecting women in tech with job opportunities around the world (free membership required)
- Fairygodboss, focused on empowering women in the workplace
- Idealist, great for those looking for opportunities in the nonprofit sector
- AngelList, for anyone looking to work for a startup
- Dice, geared toward tech-specific jobs
Caro explains, these types of job boards “are a great resource and tend to be less competitive.” And if none of those work for you, try Caro’s bonus tip: Google [location] + [industry] + “job board” (for example, Chicago developer job board) to get the exact results you’re looking for.
Use a recruiter
Connecting with a recruiter is also a great option because recruiters take on a lot of heavy lifting: finding the right jobs for you to apply to, resume prep, interview coaching, and, especially, the tricky negotiation process.
Plus they’ll help you get your foot in the door with companies you may have trouble connecting with otherwise. Charlie Bauman, a senior tech recruiter with the staffing agency VanderHouwen explains:
There’s always going to be a human element to getting hired, and we advocate for people. We have trust established with the client. If the person is coming from VanderHouwen agency they look more highly on that.
Instead of being another faceless name in a pile of resumes, with a recruiter at your back, you suddenly have an instant connection with the company hiring and someone who will advocate on your behalf.
You may have come across recruiters that charge fees for their services. Or you may worry that recruiters don’t always have your best interests at heart and are just after their commission. But that’s not always the case at all, especially if you find the right recruiting agency.
There are many recruiters out there that are free and non-exclusive for job seekers, meaning you can continue to look for jobs on your own. You can even connect with multiple recruiting agencies to improve your chances of finding a position through a wider network.
Elizabeth Calabrese, a recruitment manager at the digital and creative staffing agency Creative Circle explains it like this, “We are a second set of eyes on the market for you. There is no obligation to take work through us, so there is truly no downside in hearing what we have and partnering with us on your search.”
If you can find a recruiter that feels right, it can definitely help you speed up your job search.
Tap into your network
Another way to start your search is to tap into the networks you already have. To put it simply: tell everyone you know that you are on the market to move into tech.
No really, tell everyone you know!
It may feel weird to put yourself out there like that, but so many Skillcrush students get their first tech jobs or projects through a friend or friend of a friend, myself included. When I transitioned into tech, I got my first job through a connection I had from a few years back. And I never would have gotten it if I had kept my career change a secret.
So don’t let imposter syndrome take over. Tell your friends and family that you’re looking for work. Put up a post on social media about your new tech skills. Reach out to local businesses to see if they need any tech expertise. You’ll be surprised at how powerful your network can be. It might not happen immediately, but spending time building relationships means that when someone in your community has an opportunity, they’ll think of you.
How to break into tech when you feel stuck
Don’t limit yourself to one role at one type of company
When transitioning to an entirely new industry, finding your first job is always the hardest. So don’t limit yourself to one role at one type of company in particular.
For instance, maybe you have your heart set on working for a nonprofit or in a government position. But those industries tend to have stricter requirements and are, therefore, more difficult to break into as a newbie. Instead, Bauman says, “Steer more toward modern companies that haven’t been around 100 years, like a startup. Technical companies are more interested in seeing someone’s capabilities vs. checking boxes.”
Find a bridge job
If you’re having trouble finding the perfect position for you, Caro suggests applying to a bridge job. You can think of a bridge job as a stepping stone to your dream job.
“Think about what skills you mastered in your current career and what skills you need for your dream job. What job will help you bridge those gaps?” Taking a bridge job means finding a role that can help you learn the skills you need to make the leap to the job you really want.
“For example,” Caro says, “if you’re currently an administrative assistant, try looking for administrative jobs that are tech-adjacent, like a project manager at a startup or a marketing assistant who’s responsible for coding email templates.”
A bridge job will not only be easier for you to find, but it will also help you master the skills and build the portfolio you need to land your dream position in the future. And you may not even have to look too far. Caro says, “Larger or quickly-growing companies also have lots of opportunity for internal transfers!”
Take on freelance or temp work
You shouldn’t rule out freelance, contract, part-time, or temp work as an avenue into the tech job you want. Amy Harris, an account executive at the staffing agency Robert Half, puts it this way: “Temp work can help increase an individual’s experience due to the different environments and experience gained in a short amount of time.”
Experience is experience, no matter if you gained it through a full-time position or not. So if it’s easier to find a junior-level freelancing or contract opportunity, go for it! Any skills you can add to your resume or projects you can add to your portfolio are only going to help you.
How do I know I’m qualified for the job?
If you’re working with a recruiter, they’ll of course have the inside scoop on what jobs you’ll be qualified for. Bauman says, “Using a recruiter can help you decipher ambiguous or overly complex job descriptions.”
But if you’re searching on your own, it can be much more challenging to figure out whether or not you’re qualified and ready to apply for a job, especially if there’s a giant list of required skills included with the job posting. Bauman even mentions that women tend to avoid applying for jobs when they don’t meet all the criteria. So don’t let that list scare you!
Sometimes it’s truly impossible to meet all the listed criteria anyway, and that’s okay. Caro says:
Hiring managers sometimes treat the requirements section as a wishlist, so it’s important to ‘read between the lines’ and suss out what they really need. If you have half of the skills and the ability to learn the less important ones, you should absolutely go for it.
Try to determine what the main responsibilities are for the role you’re looking at, and figure out what skills you absolutely need to get the job done. Let’s take a look at this Junior Front End Web Developer job posting from Indeed:
This posting already has the “need to have” and “extra credit” requirements broken out for you. But since not all posts will do that for you, you need to learn how to do that for yourself.
Start by looking at the job description. Since the above job is one where you’ll be developing web apps and websites specifically, it’s clear that you’ll need skills like HTML, CSS, and Git.
The job description also says you’ll be collaborating with the product owners and the art department on design, not actually designing everything yourself. So having experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, and graphic design is only a bonus, and isn’t actually required.
If you’re ever unsure, Caro notes that the first few requirements listed are usually the most important ones, so pay extra attention to those.
Another thing to watch out for is the dreaded years of experience requirement that is so often included with job posts. If you’re searching for your first job, how in the world could you have 1–2 years of experience?
The answer is by freelancing. That’s why we encourage Skillcrush students to “freelance their way to full-time,” as Caro puts it. Freelancing is a great way to build up that experience without needing a full-time job to do so.
But you can also take years of experience requirements with a grain of salt, especially at smaller companies. Remember Michelle who landed the UX/UI designer position at a startup? That role was originally listed as a mid-level role, and she still got the job! She knew she had the right skills, so she didn’t let that “mid-level” description on the job posting scare her off from applying.
Can I really find a job right now? Even in the age of COVID-19?
COVID-19 has definitely turned the job market upside-down, and while hiring in certain areas has slowed, some has simply shifted. At some companies, hiring has actually ramped way up. In short, there are still jobs available during the pandemic.
Calabrese says, “Most of our roles right now that we are seeing are freelance, at least to start, vs. direct hire.” Even more incentive to be flexible and consider contract, temporary, and freelance roles when starting out.
“We also have seen that many companies are hiring junior- to mid-level talent vs. senior talent due to budget constraints,” says Calabrese. Good news for anyone looking to find an entry-level job in tech.
It’s possible you’ll see some Frankensteined roles these days, too. Calabrese points out, “A lot of companies are also trying to merge some roles into one, so they get more skills in one person for the same budget. So for example, instead of hiring a QA Tester + Developer, they’ll hire one person to do both positions for the same salary as one role.”
Harris, on the other hand, has seen an increase in hiring for some positions due to the fact that more people are working remotely and have had to go virtual at the drop of a hat. That means “more technical issues, an increase in vulnerability, and more companies looking for disaster-specific project management help to recover from this pandemic.”
Some of the popular jobs that Harris has seen recently—Network and Systems Engineers, Cybersecurity Engineers, and IT Project Managers with Disaster Recovery (DR) Experience—are geared toward applicants who have more experience. But Harris has seen entry-level roles available, as well, including IT support positions.
Other jobs that are popular right now and that are well-suited for tech newbies include junior quality assurance positions, junior development roles, and junior UX/UI designers.
If you want to find an entry-level job in tech, know that there are roles out there for people just starting out — you just might have to get creative to find that very first one. Instead of applying to hundreds of jobs and hoping for the best, use these tips to zero in on the best opportunities for you.
And if you’re looking to build up the skills you’ll need for an entry-level role in tech, be sure to check out Skillcrush Coding Camp where you can start learning them for free!