Searching for your first job in tech can sometimes feel like you’re running a literal race. Especially for potential software engineers. You’re in the middle of a pack, sharp elbows on both sides, sweat dripping. Surrounded by runners on all sides, all you can do is keep moving your feet and look for small openings to leap into to break away.

Are you a future software engineer looking to find your breakout moment and land your first job in the tech industry? Look no further— this article is the ultimate guide to personal branding for developers in the job market. Whether you’re a new General Assembly student or already in the job market, you’ll take away practical steps to stand out in the competitive world of software engineering. 

3 Ways to Stand Out as a Developer in Today’s Job Market

While there’s a skills shortage for software developers, it doesn’t often feel that way. Getting your foot in the door is the hardest part. 

Hiring decisions aren’t always based on who is the smartest or the most experienced. When a hiring manager makes a short list of candidates (before you even make it in the interview room), they base their decision on three things: skills, credentials, and personal brand.

1. Skills

The bottom line is that a web developer’s job comes down to skills and execution. Employers — your future hiring managers and colleagues — will expect you to have certain technical skills and to execute them as required by the role, especially if you want to keep the job. While soft skills are important in any organization, in this job you’ll ultimately find yourself being put to the test through your tech experience and knowledge, and your goal is to let this fuel your productivity and success. Aspiring developers should be proficient in at least two programming languages that they want to learn, like HTML, JavaScript, or Python

2. Credentials

You can be an amazing self-taught developer, but never get called for interviews if you can’t convey your value. To convince recruiters to give you a second glance, you need a credential to back up your software engineer skills. Degrees or coding bootcamps are more valuable than online courses due to the instructor mentorship, feedback and evaluation, and capstone projects participants undergo. Make sure that any bootcamp you enroll in is well established with a solid reputation among industry employers.

3. Personal brand

Beyond your technical skills and credentials, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that hiring managers look for, an intangible quality that doesn’t appear in any job description. Employers sometimes call it “fit” or “gut check” in hiring. Because this is unspoken and invisible, most job-seekers struggle to know what this is and fill it in.

If you think of a personal brand as something that’s only for social media influencers, think again. Personal branding is simply telling a narrative about who you are and what you have to offer—and making sure it’s discoverable. 

What are Some Ways You Can Improve Your Personal Brand as a Developer?

So, how on earth can you meet hiring managers’ expectations with invisible criteria? Fortunately, with online tools and discipline, you can build a personal brand to better connect with recruiters.

Resumes are a necessary but terrible tool for understanding what someone is like as a person—which is actually quite important for people who will spend a lot of time together as coworkers. Hiring managers want to get a taste of your passions, your personality, and your perspective on key topics in the industry. We’ve compiled six personal branding skills to help you build a brand others will want to follow—and hire. 

1. Practice Self-Awareness

The first step that you need to do to build a personal brand is to go through a reflection exercise. Without first understanding yourself, you can’t build a narrative to share with others. Write down your strengths and weaknesses and ask others to give feedback on what you’re good at. You’ll want to highlight your strengths and prepare to address your weaknesses in an interview. 

You can also reflect on your “origin story” of how you sparked a passion for software engineering and your career to this point if you’re a career changer.

2. Build a Portfolio Site

The single best asset you can prepare to further your personal brand as a developer is a personal website. This is important first because you can showcase your work, regardless of work experience, and can showcase your coding skills by building it yourself. 

“A portfolio gives employers a lot of insight into your capabilities and where you’re at professionally,” shares Austin Dang, a developer based in Austin. “When you come across a photographer or artist you absolutely love, you don’t stop to ask, ‘But how much experience does this person have?’ You just know they’re capable of doing work you like and that’s what matters.”

First, let’s talk about what to include in your portfolio site. Your site should include at a minimum: 

  1. An introduction of yourself with a description of your background, education, and strengths;
  2. A showcase of at least one project demonstrating your skills; and
  3. A way to contact you.

Many job-seekers choose to post a resume or interactive job history to showcase their skills and background like a digital resume. You should also add links to any social media profiles such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or GitHub. Even better, ask past employers or course instructors to share a short testimonial quote you can post on the site.

Your portfolio can be as simple as a GitHub or Netlify page or as complex as a custom-designed site flexing your technical muscles (like this one). For website inspiration, check out these stellar portfolios by Lucas Wong, Brittany Chiang, and Tanisha Gupta

3. Create Your LinkedIn Profile

Another place you can make your personal brand shine is on LinkedIn. Even if you don’t have any experience yet, it’s still important to create a profile. Add any relevant education, certifications, and work history. Write a polished “About” section giving your elevator pitch of who you are, your strengths, and your ideal job. Start adding connections and make sure to set your profile as “open to work” so recruiters can contact you. Follow the many excellent LinkedIn tips for job-seekers that are out there.

Posting on LinkedIn through your profile is an excellent way to build your personal brand. You can write posts adding your take to hot topics in the industry, showcase websites or apps that you find inspiring, or share coding tips. 

4. Optimize Your Resume and LinkedIn Profiles

Another important step you can take is to optimize your resume and LinkedIn profile for keywords. Look at several job descriptions for your target job. Draw out soft skills, technical skills, and other keywords from the descriptions and add them to your skills and about sections on your profile. Of course, keep the descriptions accurate to your skill levels.

“In your resume, use keywords to be specific about the programming languages you’ve learned, including related frameworks, dependencies, tools, and software,” advises General Assembly instructor Jose Cervantes

“When tech industry recruiters are looking at your resume, they want to make sure they won’t be wasting the hiring manager’s time with someone who doesn’t have specific experience in what’s required. Keywords are also how recruiters will find you.”

5. Specialize

There are many different types of developers: front-end developers, back-end developers, full-stack developers, software engineers, DevOps engineers, and quality assurance engineers. Narrowing your focus and branding yourself as a specialist will make you stand out to recruiters and streamline your job search.

Start by reading up on the different types of developers and industries hiring developers and choose an area that interests you. Need a starting place? 

6. Participate in Communities

With the foundation of a strong website and LinkedIn profile, you can take the next crucial step: participating in communities. This could be posting in LinkedIn groups, industry Slack groups, or adding to GitHub repositories. Remember, your participation shouldn’t be promotional or self-serving most of the time. Instead, build relationships and connections by adding value and sharing your tips.

Cervantes shares this advice: “Depending on the languages, frameworks, or CMS you choose to work with, be part of that community. Your presence can be digital and physical. Subscribe to pertinent tech blogs and tutorial websites on the subject to stay fresh; join online communities of tech professionals where you can learn and give help (e.g. Stack Overflow, WordPress.org); join an offline meet-up; attend a conference, coding bootcamp, and hackathon.” 

“This community experience will improve your coding skills, allow you to network, increase your chances of more freelance projects, and make you look more experienced to a potential employer,” Cervantes said.

Contributing to open-source projects is another great way to become known and add value in the coding community. Contribute to technologies you use and know well by adding to libraries and frameworks you use in your projects. For instance, check out Trending repositories on GitHub and flag or resolve issues you see.  

7. Be Consistent

Above all, for your personal brand to work, it needs to be consistent across all the places you leave a digital footprint. If your LinkedIn profile positions you as a front-end specialist, your portfolio shouldn’t have all back-end projects. From LinkedIn to your website to GitHub, and even on your resumes and cover letters, make sure you’re telling the same story.

How to Get a Software Developer Job With Personal Branding

Let’s go back to where we started—the jostling, middle-of-the-pack feeling where you can’t see what lies ahead. 

Don’t worry about all the other job-seekers out there, just compete to become the best version of yourself. You are unique from other job-seekers, and personal branding can help you find that distinction and find an employer to match. Differentiate yourself, and you’ll find your opening.

Ready to jump in? Fast-forward your engineering career today by contacting the General Assembly team to learn more.