Feeling discouraged. I don't know what I'm doing wrong

I have been teaching myself front-end development for a number of years now. I still have not been able to land my first dev role. I would greatly appreciate any advice on how to change my approach or insight on what I may be doing wrong.

Usually I will try to minimize time on job boards and instead apply directly at a company’s website if at all possible. So far, I only seem to get a phone screening or interview every couple months or so. With my resume and cover letter, I will change a few key words here and there to match the description but not much. How much tailoring should I ideally do on both when applying for each job?

Also, I would appreciate an honest opinion on my portfolio of highlighted projects. Based on my projects so far, do you all believe I am ready for a junior role? Thank you all for listening.

Portfolio Page
Resume

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HI @envincebal !

The job market right now for entry level junior developers is crazy competitive.
I am sure it was competitive before but I think the pandemic hurt a lot of industries and introduced a lot of people into the tech marketplace.

That was definitely my situation.
I was a professional musician pre pandemic, but the industry never recovered and so I made the change to software and now working as a junior developer.

Here is what worked for me :grinning:

From the very beginning I was super active on twitter, linkedin, tech meetups, discords, etc.
I spent months meeting new people, sharing projects, sharing my story and learning about opportunities.

Twitter is full of job posts, and connections.
I would suggest participating in twitter spaces, posting about your projects, and dm other developers you would like to connect with.
You would be surprised what job opportunities come up when you have a strong online presence and strong connections.

Also, make sure you have a strong linkedin profile.
Hiring managers and recruiters are super active on linkedin and if you do it right that could be a good avenue for job possibilities.
I would suggest watching Danny Thompson’s Linkedin series where he interviews recruiters and hiring managers to review profiles.

I personally used that series and did see a noticeable difference in people reaching out to me.

I would also highly suggest watching Leon’s video on landing a job.

He gives great practical advice on how to get your foot in the door and land interviews.
I have mad respect for leon because I did all of those things he talks about in the video and it works :grinning:

Those are just my opinions on what I found to work to land a job in this crazy competitive market :grinning:

Just a couple of thoughts on your resume :grinning:

I would rework your experience section when it comes to the Independent Coding section.

Right now it is coming across as you have been learning for a few years and built one site for a friend and 50 smaller projects.
You will need to sell it a little bit better.

I would focus on expanding what you did for your friends business site and how it increased their client base.
What kind of features does this site have to increase her business?

Also, if you have other projects that you built for other people, I would definitely highlight that.

As for your projects sections, I would work on the descriptions.
Right now it comes across as basic descriptions for class projects.
So, you want to be able to stand out more and sell it better.
I think when you watch leon’s video on resumes, he will give you some good ideas on how to spruce up your resume. :grinning:

I hope all of that helps and best of luck on the job search! :grinning:

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Hey Vincent, I’m also in PDX so I thought I’d take a look at your portfolio. I’m really big into accessibility, so most of my comments will reflect that. The first thing I would recommend is that you install an accessibility tester extension (or two) in your browser and run it over your portfolio. They won’t find every issue but they will find the big obvious ones.

Some addtional notes:

  • You are making what I would call some “rookie” errors in your HTML. For example, you’ve got the Download Resume button wrapped in an anchor tag. Not only is that bad for accessibility but it is just plain old not allowed in HTML5. You should definitely run your portfolio through a validator and fix these mistakes. There aren’t a lot of them but when you are competing for jobs then little mistakes like these can put you out of the running. If I can run a validator on your page then so can a potential employer :slight_smile:
  • Another big accessibility mistake: You’ve set outline: none on everything, which removes the keyboard focus indicator. Imagine if the person evaluating your portfolio can only use a keyboard. My recommendation is that you customize the outline so it fits in with your styling and looks the same in every browser. And with current CSS you are even able to configure it so the focus outline only shows when the user is using a keyboard.
  • Another keyboard issue: You can’t use the hamburger menu with the keyboard because the <a> you are using for it doesn’t have an href attribute and thus it won’t receive keyboard focus. Besides, the hamburger icon should be a <button> anyway. And there are other accessibility issues you’ll want to fix regarding this menu. This type of menu is what is called a “disclosure” widget. The button is merely toggling the menu visibility. More info at WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices and Disclosure Widgets.
  • Every interactive element must have an accessible name. This means that things like links must have some sort of text associated with them so screen readers can announce what they link to. All of the links that are using font awesome icons are hiding the icon properly with aria-hidden="true" but there is no actual text associated with those links. The easiest way to fix this is to add the text inside the anchor element and visually hide it.
  • Your inputs need labels. Placeholder text is not a substitute for labels.

As for your projects, overall they are fine but some of them do have some major accessibility issues (for example, labels for inputs are not implemented properly, or are missing completely!) Perhaps one thing that may be keeping you from standing out more is that these are fairly common types of starter projects and so a lot of people probably have very similar projects in their portfolios too. I would take one or two of these and customize them a lot more, add additional advanced features, so that they really stand out. For example, I also created a memory card game a while ago when I was testing out new JS features, but I think you’ll find that it goes way beyond the basic game play. (Note: It’s not a finished project, so it wouldn’t go in my portfolio in its current condition)

I think you are on the right path. It’s obvious that you have some skill. I think you just need to figure out a way to make yourself stand out a little more.

Good luck!

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This work is challenging, the community is challenging as well. be proud that you are part of what makes this industry so cutting edge.

This stuff is hard, but keeping a positive mental attitude is vital.

You could try the following: work for free to get experience, volunteer, make stuff and sell it, teach courses, anything really.

You got this.

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I’m not the best person to answer this question, because I’m not a Full Stack Developer yet. But, I do live in the PNW, and I know the market to some degree, so I can offer some advice.

When I first started out designing and building websites, I was hanging out mostly with people in the local music industry, and people in real estate, and I just made a habit of offering to do things for them. A local Band needed a new website, I would do it. A realtor friend needed help pulling together their visual advertising, I would do it. Someone needed digital marketing, photos edited, website re-build, I would do it. No Questions asked… And through that I met owners of local indie record labels, who needed work. And over time, I became integrated into the fabric of the local arts community and the local music industry.

Portland is a major music hub. But, perhaps you don’t have friends who are in the music industry. Perhaps, you’re involved in a local church, or have Friends that own small local businesses, or restaurants, or food trucks. Maybe you have friends who are amateur photographers, or who are getting married and want to put up a wedding website. Offer to help them. Part of the reason this is a good idea, is that it increases your understanding of what it is going to be like to build things to another person’s taste and specifications. And part of the reason, as Jessica said, is to build a community around you of people who need work, or who know others who need work.

In this way, you can build up an impressive portfolio, and at the same time, be building actual interactive, real life, tangible experience.

One more suggestion, If you can’t design websites yourself, try pairing up locally with a skilled amateur Designer. This kind of situation could benefit you both, because portfolios are always more impressive with amazing design, and it would also give you plenty of time practicing what it takes to work consistently with another person.

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Wow, thank you so much for your in-depth feedback! I will definitely make the changes you suggested on my resume and projects. Those looks like really helpful videos so I will watch them later. All your advice is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you again!

Thanks so much for your input! Accessibility is nothing something I really think about but it makes sense why it’s important because those who are hearing or seeing impaired need it. I will make those changes you suggested on my code and come up with new ways to make my projects standout. Thanks again!

Thanks for the encouragement! Yeah, I recently made a landing page for my good friend for her private practice and it’s really taken off. So I appreciate your feedback.

Thank you for your suggestions! Nice to see another fellow PNWer. I do know a couple people who are into photography so I can definitely ask around if they need a website. Really great advice you have, thanks!

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First of all, I’d personally say that getting one phone screening/interview every couple months is an unusually low ratio, and this is probably a sign that you’re doing something wrong. I’m not saying this to offend you in any way, just that this is a pretty low ratio of getting phone screenings/interviews. Unfortunately it seems to be common as I’ve heard of other folks with similar ratios (or worse), and I don’t always know the explanation, but it does usually mean that you’re not doing something right.

Actually getting phone screenings and interviews (from online blind applications, that is) is typically a matter of having a good resume AND cover letter. You should be completely customizing a cover letter for every job application. If you’re not, IMO you’re wasting your time applying to a job and you might as well be throwing your cover letter in the virtual garbage. HR/recruiters can usually tell if you’re putting in minimal effort on this and will similarly reject you if your cover letter is done very lazily.

Your resume commits several errors that I would consider egregious. First is that it’s split-layout. Split-column layouts don’t scan well by ATS, which are very commonly used by a lot of companies. Second is that you don’t have your geographic location or your LinkedIn profile, and third is that “Independent Coding Study” is not work experience. Don’t be misleading about what is experience vs self-projects on your resume. Put things in the appropriate sections. And your Summary isn’t adding anything useful either, I would recommend deleting that.

Lastly, anywhere you’re submitting your resume should be in PDF format. Don’t submit your resume anywhere in any other formats, and wherever you have links, you should spell those out, because a lot of ATS will not be able to parse your links.

Under normal conditions you should be able to get at least one phone screening/interview for every 10 applications that you submit. If you’re not, I’d suggest reporting back with more detail on what you’re actually submitting to an online application.

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No offense taken at all! Everything you said was very helpful. It was exactly what I needed to hear: what I am doing wrong and what I can do to change my approach. So thank you.

About the resume format, I have heard elsewhere that split column may be a negative and that everything should be formatted from top to bottom. So that is a good point. I’ve heard mixed things about the summary. I may delete it for a time just to see if it makes a difference. Also, you are right, I should be putting my LinkedIn profile on there. Also yes, I have been putting my resume/cover letter in PDF format only.

Regarding my cover letter, I have a feeling it may be too long and should be shortened. Here’s a basic template of my current cover letter. Any feedback on that would also be greatly appreciated.

Cover Letter

You don’t have to explicitly mention that something was a mock up or from a lesson in a code camp or fictional - these kind of statements all detract from the technologies at play in the example. You can just skip mentioning that and focus specifically on what tech is used in creating it and connecting that with you as the person that did it.

I had a bit of a hard time finding the way to see the code. After a while I found a small icon that goes to github repository where the code can be seen but it is not prominent and once you go to that link it requires the person to dig to see real code examples (ie: they have to navigate a repository before they can see anything).

Also there are two links going to the same thing - to go to the actual website / page. You can click the thumbnail / image and it takes you there and you can click the icon to the right of it to go there.

In my humble opinion this section is an opportunity to lead the person’s eye from the site / page to the code behind it. I would consider eliminating the icon that leads you to the page (the computer icon) and making it easier and more prominent to see the code behind it. One thing you could do is put a shadow mask over the thumbnail images or some opaque bar across the bottom with the word “View” or “View Site” (something like that). They would be able to see the thumbnail behind the transparency but also it would be kinda like holding something back (allure). When they click the tile they would go to the page/ site example. Then you could also prepare a collection of code files from the most recent version to display right on your site and then have a link to “See More” or something like that. This way they could click a prominent link right next to the site thumbnail that all busineess “UNDER THE HOOD” (or something like that) - when they click the link from the main page it displays the collection of files with the code that makes up the example and from there they can click “See More” to go to the repository. You want to keep the person you your website as much as possible and not lead them off of it (when they go to your github they are leaving your site). Maybe there is a way you can link back to the contact section on your website from github (github pages or github personal website pages or something - I know gitlab has that and I think github does too). Ideally they could go from the code files collection on your site to the github repository but also see a prominent link like a banner or something on the github that takes them back to your contact page or at least back to your site.

Example:

Figma Prototype Example

Its just slapped together so you may have to use the browser back and / or refresh buttons to get back

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This cover letter is what I would call super generic, and not really helpful for you. It comes across as something you might write for a number of other companies, which would make whoever’s reading it toss it aside and look at the next person.

The best format for a cover letter I’ve heard is: “state why you’re interested in this company, and then make your case for why they should consider you over someone else” (where you can quote specific things mentioned in the job listing).

Lastly, don’t ever put your full contact info & mailing address on a cover letter, and since sometimes you might not be applying directly to a company (many companies use recruiters), don’t address it to “[company] Team”, and use “Hiring Manager” instead.

I’ve done a lot of online applications myself and below is an actual one that I wrote which got me a phone screening pretty quickly (I was ultimately rejected but I did get a second follow-up phone interview with them).

You can see that I state why I’m interested in the company. If you’re not doing that on each and every cover letter that you write, then you might as well save your time and effort and not bother applying to a company.

Dear Hiring Manager,

I found your open position for the Full Stack Laravel Engineer via SitePoint Jobs and immediately got excited for two reasons.

The first reason is because although I don’t have my own pet at the moment (but I’m looking forward to getting one soon!), I do have a love for all animals and would only consider getting one from an animal shelter. I believe that animal shelters & rescues are an indispensable part of every community, and I wish I could do more to support them and help save animals’ lives. It is heartening to see that you are supporting them through your software, and I would love to be part of your team.

The second reason I got excited is because my experience and skill set happens to align quite a bit with the technologies that you are using. I’m comfortable working full-stack across both Vue and Laravel, and I’ve built both internal and external APIs with PHP (via CodeIgniter and Laravel respectively). I’d be very excited to work across all three of your applications for animal shelters & rescues, adopters, and humane law enforcement field services to help make a positive impact for everyone involved. Lastly, I have experience with AWS (EC2, S3, API Gateway, and Cognito), interacting with internal and 3rd party APIs, and Nuxt as well.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing back from you.

And here’s another cover letter that I wrote that also got me a phone screening with the recruiter, a 2nd follow-up phone call with a top-level company manager, and a technical virtual pair programming exercise (I was ultimately rejected from this one as well however):

Dear Hiring Manager,

The open position for Software Engineer Enterprise at Handshake caught my eye because I identify with Handshake’s mission of connecting college students with employers, as I recall my experience in looking for a job when I had graduated from college and the challenges I faced along the way. And I certainly believe that students need more help these days as well, especially with the changes from the COVID pandemic.

I believe that I could add to the team since I’m comfortable working across the stack (front-end and back-end) and improving performance & scaling on back-end systems, as well as improving UI/UX. Although I am not familiar with the specific technologies in use at Handshake, I do have experience with some comparable technologies that I believe would be translatable, like Vue.js in place of React, Laravel in place of Ruby on Rails, and AWS in place of GCP. I would absolutely be up to any and all challenges for the role and would be especially dedicated towards learning anything as needed.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing back from you.

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You can see that I already had some prior developer experience when I wrote the above two cover letters, so I’m also including this one, which is older and earlier on in my career when I had less experience. And I actually landed this job too.

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am very interested in applying for your position Junior PHP Developer, which I heard about online through a local Slack community. My skillset includes experience with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, SQL, and GitHub, and I would be excited to contribute those skills in any way that I can.

Although you may see from my resume that my work experience goes back a number of years, I only recently transitioned to software development from a previous career in Internet security a few years ago, and I would be happy to support senior developers and the rest of the team to the best of my ability. Currently I am doing full-stack web development for Level Terrain, a local company based in the Denver CO metro area, where I am regularly using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and SQL to support a consumer-facing website and other web applications. I also recently contributed towards front-end development at Issufy, a finance-tech startup based in London in the UK that’s building a platform for IPO issuers and investors.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing back from you!

Hope these actual cover letters that I’ve written (and which all got me phone screenings and further interviews) help you in some way.

Also, I did NOT have a portfolio site when I applied to all these jobs. A lot of advice is given about that these days, but I’ve never had one myself.

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Last thing I’ll post here: on your portfolio site, you list a project that you did for a friend.

Lead with that project on the page first and just list a few more projects. You don’t need to list everything you’ve done. Only list the best and most impressive ones that you’ve done.

And don’t say things like “A landing page I built for a friend’s small business!” The wording of this doesn’t have a positive implication, and I’d bet a lot of people would then think that you did it for free (which you should never disclose, btw). Re-word this to say “A landing page I built for DaVine Counseling”. Nothing more needs to be said on that.

The best advice I can give to you is to keep building more complex projects, and build an application that solves a business problem - an e-commerce app like Amazon’s would be a good challenge. Use Firebase to simplify what you can’t do or don’t know yet. Go beyond doing just landing pages and build dynamic SPAs - because that’s a lot of what most SaaS companies have.

And if you’re applying for React jobs, you need to demonstrate that you know React well, along with anything else that goes along with it, like Redux, and possibly Next.js. You can’t just know React alone these days anymore when there’s a large ecosystem around it.

Also in the larger JavaScript ecosystem, it’ll pay to learn and know things like AWS, UNIX/Linux, and Git. I can see that you have projects hosted on GitHub, but how well do you know Git as a tool? And things like Chrome Devtools? These are just some additional things you might be expected to know on your first day of a job. The first week of every job I’ve had has involved setting up the company’s application(s) locally and learning the codebase, along with whatever’s used for versioning (it hasn’t always been through GitHub!). If someone dropped you in that type of scenario, would you be able to do it? If not, you can learn right now by going to an open-source app and figuring out how to contribute to it.

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You make a good point. The 2 links leading to the same page is kind of redundant and unnecessary. I appreciate you posting a prototype, I think adding a hover popup on the thumbnail is a great idea. I think getting rid of the links will help simplify things. Thank you again for pointing that out!.

Wow, I am simply overwhelmed by all the abundance of great advice you have to offer. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time out of your day to write all this. I admit all this is a huge wakeup call for how wrong my entire approach had been for years. But I’d rather be told the tough truth than to keep under the impression I’m on the right track. You’ve given me so much good stuff, I don’t know where to start. I had a feeling my cover letter was too generic. Your examples are much more personalized and concise. I will definitely use yours as an example.

Interestingly, I’ve also been thinking about doing an ecommerce app. You’re right in that I need to build something bigger that will stand out from the usual run of the mill tutorial apps. It’ll be tough, but it will be a fun challenge.

Seriously, thank you thank you thank you! You’ve help me map out a new direction.

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