So you’re trying to get a job and you don’t know where to start? Awesome. This post will blow your mind because the things that matter are not what you actually think.
Full disclosure, I’ve changed only a handful of positions but I’ve seen a few common themes that allowed me to understand and stand out from the crowd. So let’s goooo!
There are 2 pillars I believe are crucial for a modern human being to stay competitive on the market: portfolio and content. Let's explore their role and impact.
A portfolio is a tool to make your work equal despite nationality, gender, race, and other features that some companies take into account but they shouldn't. Your work is more important than where you did it. You could create an awesome AR app in Uganda or Colombia because you're smart. A portfolio eliminates geographical barriers and limitations. If you're good enough, you will win. If I were an HR, I'd remove the resume and substitute it with portfolio only. That's how confident I am on this.
That's why I think people should start working on their portfolio as early as they understand the industry they want to work in. It can be as early as at university, college, or even school. Some people are so gifted, they should put out their work in kindergarten. I’m kidding but I hope you got where I’m going with this.
The importance of resume
See, people overestimate the importance of their resume and underestimate the importance of the actual work. A resume is important but it has lower value because everyone will have it by default. A resume is nothing but a catalog of attempts to become the type of person you envisioned. A resume only shows some facts of what you've achieved but in the end, it's just a timeline of your work life.
The real importance of the resume is to demonstrate the growth in your personal development. Because you can't get a better job unless you accept bigger challenges and become more flexible in applying more advanced resources. Thus, we create resumes not to show people where we've been but to show them who have we become as a result of those experiences in various companies. That's it.
The importance of portfolio
Portfolio, on the other hand, is a place to demonstrate the growth of your skills and your professional curiosity. It is a centralized hub of your contribution to society within the industry you love the most.
A good portfolio can help to evaluate if you're an expert or an amateur, which is often hard to do by just looking at a resume. Ideally, a portfolio should be a combination of your best work that you're proud of the most. It should be something you would consider your life's work or mission and should be reflected as such.
The latter one may cause some confusion because I know a major group of people globally work mostly to pay their bills, and not enjoying the process and become happy. If you're in this position, you should rethink your entire life first, and then come to this post when you're ready. See, we spend 80% of our lives working on something. That's a lot! So if you don't like what you're doing or it makes you depressed, sad, unhappy, then why not explore some new options?
Most people treat their portfolio poorly and don't even put the time to structure it, which is a big mistake. Imagine the impression of you as an expert if you can't organize your masterpieces together? Yeah.
There are several ways to organize your portfolio:
- Based on companies in chronological order - the most straightforward one
- Based on years - only if you participate in hackathons non-stop or work on too many projects every year
- Based on project types - drafts, prototypes, completed designs, etc.
- Based on experience - junior, middle, senior | development, project management
Note, different niches have different stages, types, categories of work, thus some structures may not apply to you individually.
There are several excuses I've heard for people not to compose a portfolio:
- I work in a niche that doesn't involve any materials to package them as a portfolio.
- I signed an NDA with my company that prevents me from sharing anything.
- I have no experience as a ___ so I don't even know where to start.
There's not a single niche where you can't compose a portfolio. Designs and code are kind of obvious, just put them on Github, Behance, or your personal website. If you work physically (e.g. architect, dentist, bartender, waiter), it's a bit tricker and you need to be more creative. The best solution is to create videos, blog posts, podcasts, keynotes, livestreams, webinars where you show off your individual skills. Then you put those in a single location (Google Drive, Dropbox, YouTube playlist, etc) and you're basically done. It does take some time to create those things but it is totally worth it. If you don't have the time to create content, document how you work and explain why you do it this way.
If you have an NDA or you can't share the work from any of your companies, you could create similar projects that don't use any of the details and features of the projects you are/were working on. If that's not allowed too, you could use the method described above and create videos explaining just enough that the company does allow you to share. For instance, a stack of technologies or tools used, project workflow, skills involvements. If the project is open to the public, you can navigate the parts you were working on.
If you're a freshman and you don't have any experience, or you want to try a new profession and you're starting from scratch, you could sign up for free or paid boot camps, hackathons, tournaments to become a participant in targeted technologies. There are also dozens of online courses on Coursera, Udemy, Pluralsight that you can leverage to built your first projects.
I know that is a very surface-level explanation but this should be enough for you to get started. Improvise and be open to trying novel approaches. You never know what may work better.
The second pillar that I think is equally important is the amount and quality of content you produce on a daily or weekly basis. Content is king but you need to know how to use and leverage it to your advantage!
What are the low-hanging fruits of building a portfolio during the work?
Working for open source projects is the best thing you can do for your career. You are building your portfolio daily and this is a beautiful thing.
If you work in IT, look for open source projects that need some help or simply contribute to whatever project you prefer directly. With enough patience and time, you can build a decent size portfolio of contributions. Sometimes this is more valuable than building individual trial projects.
Lastly, if you know the exact company you want to work with, contribute to their source code. This creates trust and boosts your portfolio too. If your contributions are valuable enough, it's 10x easier to land the interview in that company.
Any advice for writing cover letters?
Write them in stories and let them be custom for each company. What I like to do is to mix the requirements that a particular company needs with the stories from my life. It's a good tactic that works on a subconscious level. You do need to practice writing more to make them interesting enough for HRs specifically.
Video-resumes. Do they work?
A video resume is a great addition to your portfolio and resume. If you have some cool things to share about yourself, or a unique experience that you've documented, do it! There are great tools like Quick by GoPro where you create videos like this in mere minutes.
Make sure to make video-resume in a style that is appropriate for your profession. For instance, too much fun and remote work is not a very appealing quality for a lawyer but a good one for a technical writer : )
How important is engagement with the community?
Your goal is to communicate with people you want to work with beforehand on Discord, LinkedIn, Twitter. I got my first ever job out of a tiny forum!
Also, it's a good idea to become an ambassador for the company you want to work with. Some companies have official programs, others don't but spreading the good word sometimes leads to an unbelievable level of access to people within the company.
What was the craziest discovery during your hunts?
Little things can lead to faster results!
For example, some companies have an email where you can send your resume if the job description doesn't match your experience. What I did is I applied with the original form and then sent a follow-up to that extra email. I got responses the next day from 2 out of 3 companies. I was impressed.
Is it useful to attend conferences during a job hunt?
I collect contacts at conferences, meetups, and basically, everywhere I go. Then I engage with them on socials or at least add them to my ultimate list of contacts.
What people don't realize is that you're 2 texts away from speaking with the company of your dream. You may not know anyone but a random person who you've met 3 years ago can know a girlfriend of your future project manager. It's crazy how things work. So it's not who you know, it's who they know!