You’ve heard the saying before: “Fake it till you make it.” I agree with this philosophy - especially when it comes to getting a great programming job. But, I think the way you ‘fake’ it is important. It’s important to fake it ethically. Let’s discuss.
I caught a local tech school advising programmers to list their college experience as real experience. “If the job says 2 years of experience,” they said, “you are perfect for it. You have two years of experience here!”
Let’s just consider the fact that the 2+ years of experience requirement is a lot of time BS. People just don’t want a know-nothing person bumbling through their project, ripping it up. But really, another hidden meaning to this statement is “I want someone who has worked in a professional atmosphere before” - whereas coming out of high school, into college - that’s not real life experience.
I’ve also reviewed 100’s of resumes that are clearly faking it. They claim to have specific skills which are impossible (12 years of React experience) or they embellish (25 years of experience working with COBOL). The first example is clearly false - you can’t have experience before something exist. The other: were you really programming COBOL for 25 years? Or did you do it for 5 years, 25 years ago? Then, you have 5 years of experience.
Anyway - so how do we fake it till we make it to get a good job?
The trick is to act like you actually have a job while you’re searching for your job. Let me explain.
First, be disciplined. It can be easy to get lazy when you’re not working. “I’ll apply later, I have some Netflix to watch.” Or, “how can I learn something if I don’t know what my future job requirements will be? Chicken and egg, bro!” Those are both excuses and not faking it till you make it. Set yourself a schedule like you’d have if you had a real job already.
Next, apply to jobs during your ‘meetings.’ Programmers usually end having meetings during the day. So, get in the habit of breaking up your work. Plan some meeting time 8a to 9:30a, 11a to 11:30a, 3:30p to 5p. During those times, stop what you’re doing and apply to jobs. (And please don’t just spam everyone. Keep track of who you’ve applied to, and make sure your cover letter makes sense.) This gets you in the habit of having your work broken up by ‘interruptions’ - and it keeps you on track.
You might say “I need to apply to every place immediately!” but I think you should slow down. Apply to jobs that you want, that you think you’ll be a good fit at - don’t panic. Plus, depending on your area (if say you’re applying locally), people have a good memory. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing yourself spammed with the same application repeatedly - or - every time someone is looking for a job. Be more selective, use your meeting times to craft good quality applications. Make yours stand out.
Finally, create projects or a portfolio. Develop projects, do work for non-profits, anything! Spend your remaining work time building something that you can show your prospective employer. A lot of people get in the habit of creating private work for employers - so they have nothing to show. Here you have something you can show - it sets you apart. It also shows an employer that - while you don’t have a job (someone else hasn’t vetted you) - you do have some skills. They might be willing to waive their experience requirements if you’re creating great work.
An excuse I hear is that “I don’t have all that time” - which I think is crap. You have 8 hours at least every weekday free during your job search. You’d otherwise be using those up at the job (plus probably commutes) - so you definitely have the time.
Another excuse is “I can’t think of any good project.” First of all, search out local non-profits and see if you can help them. Like dogs? Find the local humane society and help them out. At the very least, keep a notepad with you and write down ‘irritating’ things you discover online in UI/UX, functionality, etc - and make a solution. If you don’t like how a UI looks, create your own version of it. This gives you a portfolio piece (just make sure you indicate that you created this yourself and it was not commissioned by the company) - and - you never know, maybe the company who owns the UI you improved might get wind of you and want to talk to you. If you don’t do UI, figure out ways to improve documentation for open source software. Create a mash up of useful information from data.gov in a JSON API format. Something! There are tons of ideas out there.
Fake it till you make it.
You might not have the experience working at a real gig - but that’s ok. Now that you’ve got time, build your ‘fake’ career out a bit. Then, if you get an interview, you can show the code or portfolio you’ve been building - and hey - if its your first job, share your process to apply to jobs, too. It’ll show them you’re driven and disciplined.
But whatever you do, don’t fake it unethically or lie. You will get caught or stuck, and it only ends up bad in the end.