How to Get the Experience You Need to Land Your First Tech Job
One of the most pervasive problems job seekers face in the tech industry is how to acquire working experience. Companies won’t hire you without experience, and you won’t get working experience without being hired. It’s a dilemma.
Even entry-level tech jobs that can fetch you experience still require some form of experience. So how do you get the experience you need to get hired?
Fortunately, there are several ways to get working experience that will appeal to recruiters and help you land your first big job in tech.
What Counts as Work Experience in Tech?
What counts as acceptable work experience can vary extensively. However, any worthwhile project within your field to which you’ve dedicated your skills towards completing will be considered by most employers as working experience.
It doesn’t have to be a 9-to-5 job, nor do you have to get paid for it. As long as you’ve spent considerable time on it and used relevant technical and soft skills to solve relevant problems, then it counts as a relevant job experience.
That being said, here’s how to acquire working experience that’s good enough to get you through the recruiter’s door.
1. Join Open-Source Projects
Participating in open-source projects is one of the most popular ways to get valued experience in tech. There are endless opportunities in just about any tech niche. The best part is that open-source experience is highly valued, even by some of the highest-profile employers in tech.
While participation in open-source projects seems like an exclusive reserve of programmers and software developers, the available opportunities are more diverse. Because people tend to focus more on contributing code, a lot of other tech roles are left short of attention. This is an opportunity you can leverage for work experience.
Do you want work experience in technical writing? You can write the documentation and how-tos for open-source software projects. Need experience in branding and digital marketing? Open-source software also needs branding and promotion. You can get elite-level experience by helping to brand some of the most innovative open-source software.
Some of these open-source software projects get very successful along the line. References of your involvement with hugely successful projects can provide a weighty work experience on your resume. As more tech companies embrace the open-source movement, there are increasingly more opportunities for contribution. It’s a gold mine for work experience out there.
How to Add Open-Source Contributions to Your Resume
Can you add open-source contributions as work experience on your resume? Yes.
The best way to add open-source contributions to your resume is to split the details across your resume’s profile, professional summary, and project description sections.
- Include the link to your open-source contributions—like your GitHub link—in the profile section. This should typically come just below your LinkedIn profile link.
- In the summary section, point out that you’re an open-source contributor and highlight some of your most significant contributions.
- Finally, within the project description section, list the open-source projects you’ve contributed to, briefly describe the nature of your contributions and provide a link to each project.
2. Start Freelancing
One of the easiest ways to get yourself through a recruiter’s door is to start freelancing within your tech niche. It’s perhaps one of the most targeted ways to get the experience you need in just about any tech industry.
Thanks to popular freelancing marketplaces like Upwork and Freelancer, you can acquire a specific experience in a short time. Upwork, for instance, frequently features jobs that are specifically targeted at beginners. You’ll find these jobs marked as requiring beginner-level experience.
Although these beginner roles may not always come with attractive pay, every extra hour you clock while on it is a plus on your resume.
Sign up on reputable freelancing sites like iFreelance, Toptal, Freelanced, Fiverr, Upwork, or Freelancer to start your freelancing journey.
If you’re confident that you’ve honed your skills to a significant level of mastery, Toptal could be an excellent place for you. The platform is reserved for some of the best freelancers in select fields. Therefore, listing freelance experience from the platform can weigh favorably on your resume.
However, Upwork is the best option for getting beginner-level experience. It is beginner-friendly and can provide you with considerable experience with a lower entry barrier. To get started, register on Upwork and complete your profile.
To get beginner-level jobs on Upwork, add “beginner” to your search query whenever searching for a gig within your niche. If you prefer to use Fiverr (which is also a bit beginner-friendly), keep your rates as low as possible to get as many jobs as you’ll need to build experience.
How to Add Freelancing Experience to Your Resume
Can you add freelancing activities as work experience on your resume? Definitely!
There are two popular ways to incorporate freelancing experience into a resume:
- You can create a separate section to list all your freelancing activities.
- Or, you can neatly tie your freelancing activities directly into the employment history section of your resume.
For the second option, the best practice is to give yourself a job title that best describes the kind of work you did as a freelancer. Ideally, prepend your job title with a qualifier like “Freelance,” “Contract,” or “Consultant” to indicate self-employment.
3. Run a Blog or Personal Website
Blogging about your tech niche is an effective way to demonstrate your competence and put your skills to good use. Running a blog where you share relevant ideas and valuable content focused on your tech niche ensures that you actively use your skills and gain experience.
If you need experience in tech writing, for instance, running a blog can be particularly useful. There’s no better way to demonstrate your writing prowess than pointing recruiters to an entire website of your work.
However, it’s not just writing, and you can earn experience in fields like branding, digital marketing, programming, fintech, and several other tech fields by running a how-to blog. In programming, for instance, you could share how-tos for different kinds of programming projects. This means you’ll be actively building a wide range of real-life projects and equally gaining practical experience.
How to Add a Personal Website or Blog to Your Resume
To highlight experience from running a website or a blog:
- Add a link to your website in the profile section.
- Ensure to briefly describe what you do on your blog or website in as few words as possible in the summary section.
- If your website has facilitated a worthwhile project, it could be a good idea to highlight it in the project description section of your resume (if your resume has one).
4. Volunteer With Non-Profits and Humanitarian Organizations
Volunteer work is an important but often neglected way to acquire tech experience. According to this LinkedIn survey, one in five US managers hired an applicant because the listed volunteer work on their resume. Participating in volunteer work doesn’t just serve as a work experience; it also gives you an edge in your job search.
There are thousands of non-profits and humanitarian organizations in need of volunteers for their activities. From global organizations like UNICEF to local charities in your community, you’ll find organizations that need a helping hand in tech fields.
Microsoft TEALS program, US Peacecorp’s volunteer program and the United Nations Volunteer program are reputable volunteer programs you can use to kick-start your volunteering journey. There are also several online platforms where you can find remote tech volunteer opportunities in a wide range of tech-related fields.
How to Add Volunteer Work to Your Resume
There are two ways to list your volunteer work experience on your resume:
- First, you can list it under the work experience or work history section, just like you’d list any other work experience.
- Or, you can create a “volunteer work” section to list all your relevant work experience, each, followed by a bulleted list of your roles.
Experience Is an Asset in Tech
The tech industry places a lot of premiums on working experience. Owing to the most practical nature of tech jobs, recruiters typically need someone who has hands-on experience. Don’t wait to be hired to gain experience.
Go out there, take advantage of those experience opportunities, and put yourself ahead of the pack in your job search.
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