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How I found a job in a new sector during the Covid-19 pandemic

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 27 May 2020

Job searching through Covid Hero Image

Xuan Wang was a philosophy teacher before she took part in a coding bootcamp that got her even more interested in the world of engineering and technology. She has taken the time to share her experience of job seeking throughout this pandemic and has successfully been offered a new role. Job seeking can be hard no matter the situation but being able to overcome all the new challenges you might find yourself facing right now, can help make you a better professional. 

What sparked your interest in technology?

I got into technology because I felt like I was a lazy teache­r. I was teaching a class of 150 students and wanted to make sure that they were making the most of being in the classroom. It can be hard to keep 18-21-year old’s motivated, so I decided to set up a public forum where they had to post details about their assignments and set readings. I made it public so other students could read each other’s comments, that way they HAD to do the work because everyone else could see! The forum went well and loads of students contributed but I had set up an impossible task for myself by the end of it. I thought, how am I going to count and read all the posts by 150 students over 16 weeks?!

There was no way that I could do it manually. So, I looked around and realized that I could use Python (an interpreted, high-level, general-purpose programming language) to help me with the counting. I spent a few weeks taking an online course from EdX and wrote a small program to count all the posts! Since then, I’ve been hooked, and always wanted to learn more. So, when we relocated to London from New York for my husband’s work, I had to think about a career transition. I thought if I was going to change career, I really wanted to do something I am passionate about. And I think that the nature of work in 10 years will be dramatically changed by the development of technology, and I want to participate in that process of transformation, instead of following along. I took the opportunity of relocation to join a bootcamp and started my coding career! Best decision I’ve ever made!

When and where did you start your job search?

I finished my coding bootcamp in mid-March, and spent a few weeks putting together my portfolio and researching the industry. I started reaching out to people and applying for roles in early April. I signed up for virtually every job seeking platform I could think of (LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, CoderList, AngelList, Otta, etc.). We also have a job seeking platform at General Assembly for alumni to post their profiles and for employers to recruit GA grads. I also applied to a lot of companies directly on their job page.

So far it has been the GA network that has been the most effective for me. Most of my applications through LinkedIn and other platforms either went into dark or got rejections a few weeks later. I got one interview through a job ad posted by a former GA grad on our alumni page, and a Chief Technology Officer contacted me after seeing my GA profile page.

How has Covid-19 affected your job search?

A lot of companies that I got in touch with said they are not hiring entry level engineers right now because they wanted to make sure that they have enough resources to train and mentor the junior developers they hire to best ensure their career progression. However, due to the current situation, they are finding it difficult to provide that kind of support. They also mentioned that a lot of their current employees are already working very hard to get through the pandemic, so it would be unfair to put extra mentoring duties on them. I really appreciated the fact that the hiring managers communicated that to me, it that shows that they genuinely care about the professional development of junior developers and take good care of their current employees.

Also, a lot of experienced engineers are on furlough or had been made redundant, so it added a lot of competition in the market, especially as someone new to the industry.

Despite this, I have made sure that I keep attending online meetups and virtual conferences. I reached out to friends and connected with people that I met on LinkedIn. I got involved and asked questions on Twitter with genuine interest of wanting to know the answer, and to learn from people who are more experienced. Many people responded and offered to take the time to mentor me! (Twitter has been an amazing resource for networking and learning!) Engineers are usually very happy to share their wisdom and experience; it’s been lovely being invited into this community.

The advice you can take from this would be to try and attend as many virtual meetups as possible. Put yourself out there any try to meet new people a different way. Networking is an important part of job seeking and should not be left out. Reach out to people you already know and see how they can lend a hand. Be brave and put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid, because honestly, you have nothing to lose, and by doing so you only gain experience or advice or connections. Read more about how important networking can be here.

How did you market yourself online?

I posted projects I have done on Twitter, Slack channels, Discord channels and made an effort to chat with people. I shared my Twitter account, LinkedIn and portfolio on the coding channels as well.

A lot of jobs are not publicly announced, so networking and market yourself online is very important. People can’t really get a read of your personality or skills just from CV or cover letter. Your online presence can be really important for building up a public profile.

The GA London Outcomes Team (Casey, Astrid and Claudio) have been super helpful in revising my CV and online profile and they have been checking in with us regularly during the lockdown. The constancy of Codebar has also been a great support as well. I learned how to talk the engineer talk and how to improve my skills from the weekly coaching sessions with experienced developers (especially Jodi the super coach!). Would not have been able to make it here without the help from the community! 

Did you take part in any virtual interviews?

I’ve had a few virtual interviews and I think they went quite well. I usually make sure that I do a lot of research before each interview, so I came into the meeting prepared. Once I was interviewing with a Scrum Master, I read an entire book on Scrum by the person who came up with the principles. And we had great fun talking about how the scrum principles can be applied to many different aspects of life. Another time I read the MSc dissertation on applied mathematics, and I asked the interviewer at the end of the interview, which really took him by surprise, and we went on talking about it for a while. My point is, try and make a little extra effort and it won’t go unnoticed.

I find that as long as you are genuinely interested in the interviewer and come prepared with questions for them, it can help you feel more comfortable and help the whole thing go a lot smoother. Always remember that an interview is a two-way process.

Find out as much information as you can about the company and the interviewers. Check the LinkedIn profiles of people who work at the company, and the people that you will be interviewing with. Check their personal blogs, Twitter and talks they may have given. Check out the blogs of the company, try to speak their language. Companies manage their brands; have particular vocabulary they use to communicate their mission and values. Try to align yourself with them.

My advice to you

Overall, my experience job seeking throughout this pandemic has been wonderful. I have learnt so much from the process, met so many interesting and wonderful people, and I got to learn new technology when doing the coding tasks as well.

I had told myself that it would probably take a while before I found a job, so I decided to enjoy the process, since I must go through it anyway. A quote from Japanese Author; Haruki Murakami that I really like: ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’. Once I had the mindset, I found myself taking every interview opportunity as a learning curve.

Don’t give up. It is a tough time, especially for some industries that rely on personal contact to continue their business. But I am actually very optimistic about the future for people going into tech, because a lot of businesses are moving online, or trying to build their online infrastructure. There will be a lot of opportunities to come. It will probably take some time for industries to adapt, but there will be more opportunities once they recoup.

Job seeking can be difficult in the best of times, but this pandemic has become another hurdle that job seekers must overcome. However, there are ways to find a new job and with a little determination and courage to put yourself out there, you can manage what may seem like the impossible.