30 Oct

Applying for a Software Engineer position straight from college

PSTech has a well-earned reputation in the domestic IT market of Serbia. Naturally, a lot of people apply for software engineering and software testing positions, since many are aware of the advantages of starting their career in a well-established company. HR processes in the company are really good, with an optimal workflow backed up by a good software solution.  Some of us get the pleasure (not always a pleasure though) of conducting interviews for future colleagues.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been conducting technical interviews for future PHP software engineers, juniors, seniors, interns… A lot of different people were called for a talk on their experience, expectations and character. I always enjoy talking to people from different backgrounds, since there is a lot to be learned. Some of them are already employed and come with previous experience in being interviewed, some of them may even be conducting technical interviews themselves. But a fair number of applicants are fresh from college looking for a prospective career. If you belong to this group, here is some honest advice…

Applying for an engineering job

So, you are a future software engineer? Fantastic! You are (soon to be or recently) a graduated student from a state or private university, or an IT practitioner with lack of high formal education, but backed up by experience that cannot be marched by grad students, and you’ve done some Google search or have been directed to a career opportunity by a friend or acquaintance. You like technology and find yourself willing to develop, maintain and design software solutions. It’s perfect time to apply for the job.

For starters, you should send a formal email application to your potential employee. It is not a big thing, but it seams to frighten a lot of people that they have to write a cover letter. A lot of future engineers say things like: “I want to write code, not PR texts”. As a future software architect, a technical lead or a senior, you should know better. Software engineers write a lot of stuff – code comments, documentation, reply to emails in direct communication with clients. Not only that, but this is the first out of several actions you must take in order to be differentiated from others, so just do it. Think about what you want, and form a simple sentence or two that will get you past that first base.

Here’s a perfectly fine example of a short and effective job application:

Dear Sir/Madam,

My name is Future Engineer I would like to apply for a position of a Software Engineer in your company. I’ve learned about the opportunity from your website and I think I qualify for the job. I am a recent graduate from Whatever University, where I majored in Computer Science.

Please find my resume attached and feel free to contact me if you find my application interesting.

Thank you,

Future Engineer

Make sure you state where you learned about the job opportunity – their website, an employment web portal, from a friend or their employee… This is very relevant for the employers, as it helps them a lot in their HR processes, and a good opportunity for you to mention a name or an organization that you are familiar with – it will just make you look like you are on top of things. Here is an example:

I’ve learned about the opportunity from my good friend and your recent employee – Someone Relevant. I’ve heard a lot about your working conditions and career development possibilities and would like to be a part of such an organization.

You can enhance the application by writing something interesting about you or your skills. This can highlight your application in the eyes of the employer. Write stuff if you think it can help, because the resume is limited and this is your opportunity to express yourself. You are a part of a project or an organization? Don’t forget to mention that, since employers prefer people with experience in various projects and teamwork.

This additional part is also referred to as a “Cover Letter”. Some people recommend sending a cover letter separately in an attachment.  If you ask me, this is not valid for software engineering positions. You are applying for a creative job – yes, but you don’t have to present your entire creative side by writing endless pages of text – no one is going to read that. I would recommend adding it to your application email. For example, you could write:

I was always fascinated by software engineering as a way of expressing one’s creativity and skills. Being somewhat a “geek”, it was all to natural for me to get involved in writing software. I am eager to start my career as a full-time creator of software, and I am well aware that I have a lot to learn.

Off course, you are sending a lot of applications to different employers. Beware of errors in text. I remember one of my mistakes some time ago, where my email started with something like this:

“I hereby apply for a position of Software Engineer a position of Junior Developer you posted online…”

You want to be regarded as a professional. Copy-paste can get you there, but beware of mistakes since they can definitely make you look sloppy, so double check your message before sending the application. Also, don’t forget to attach the resume! This is a more common mistake then you can imagine…

Your resume

Naturally, this is a very important part of your application. The resume is you, on a piece of (virtual) paper. To be more precise, it’s a model of you with a focus on your professional profile. Here is some key points and advice:

  • Keep it simple

Your resume should be systematic. You can do some graphical design, but I’ve often seen perfectly designed resumes of people with very little skill. Focus on the important, and leave design to designers. Use tables to present your information.

The layout should contain sections about your education and extracurricular activities, both college and commercial projects, events you’ve taken part in, your personal and professional skills – this is all standard and Google is your friend, so go and search for an example.

I’ve heard a lot of professionals warning people to limit their resumes to one or two pages of A4 paper, and I completely disagree. Your resume should have as many pages you need to list what is important. However, keep in mind what was previously said about design – don’t let design force you to make too many pages.

  • Include your contact information

Start your resume with your full name and contact information. Make sure you provide accurate data about how can the employer contact you. Do not provide your home address unless the job application explicitly demands this. Who knows where the document will end up – don’t be a panic, but don’t mess with the devil.

This part is ideal for listing your social networks profiles, a blog or a personal website. On the other side, I would not recommend revealing your online profile if it contains sensitive information. You don’t want your future employer viewing your drinking games photos on Facebook, right? But be certain that a professional head hunter or employer will check all your public profiles available online, so pay attention to what you share and with whom.

Should you put your photo in the resume? Well, you don’t have to, but adding one will help the employer put a face to a set of skills and experience. If you do include a photo, please don’t cut it from a party photo or something like that. Use a standard photo ID format. If you think you can be subjected to prejudice because of your (good or bad) looks on a photo, don’t include it.

  • Keep it real and be honest

People tend to emphasize everything in their resumes. This is not a completely wrong way to build the profile, but you have to have limits. There is a difference between lying and presenting something with style.

If you reach the interview phase, someone is actually going to check if you were honest, so don’t overestimate yourself and try to keep it as real as you can. For example, if you’ve done some Java in college, don’t write that you have 2 years of Java experience, but don’t forget to mention all the projects done using Java technologies.

  • Don’t overbuild

For starters, don’t write long textual descriptions. This goes to your application (cover letter) as mentioned previously . Be concise.

If you are applying for a software engineer position, don’t let your resume scream you’ve done things like market research or organized events. That will eat the space needed for the important stuff – programming languages, frameworks, projects… Employers respect all kinds of experience and you should definitely list everything relevant, but focus on the important.

Describe your projects! Don’t just list them, but provide a high level description, list the technologies used and what you’ve learned. This goes for all types of projects, and it’s not in any way limited to software projects. Help the employer to understand your level of knowledge and skills gained from all those projects. After all, that was the point of doing them.

  • Ask for recommendations and Include them

You’ve participated in a project, worked with a mentor? Make sure you ask them politely for a letter of recommendation. If you don’t have a LinkedIn professional profile, make one – it makes it easy for people to endorse you. Then include this in your resume. If you have a lot of recommendations, provide them as a separate document.

Upon finishing the resume, check and re-check the document for mistakes. Even better, ask someone to do a quick review, since you are very likely to miss something. You could even get advice for improvements. Most common mistakes are grammar errors and invalid dates, so pay attention.

When attaching your resume, make sure you send a PDF document, not your source documents (Word and Open Office file formats). This is a platform-independent document type and it’s not professional to send documents you were originally working on.

The interview

This is the most important part of the entire process, and a part no one can help you with. You are on your own, but backed up by everything you’ve previously done. If you followed the advice carefully, by now you’ve produced an excellent resume, went trough all your experience and you know what you are good at, and what you are not.  So, what the interview looks like…

Basically, you are given a chance to present yourself, go trough your resume and answer a lot of questions about different things. They would like to know more about your character, ambition, preferences and teamwork abilities. You will be presented with the company itself, the projects you could be working on and the general working conditions. The interview experience may vary, because different companies have different standards and processes. In any case, there should be a technical interview. There you will be questioned and they may ask you to do a simple assignment. Sometimes, you bring your code on a USB stick and present your work. You’ll be tested to prove what you previously stated in the application and resume and to determine If you have potential.

Here’s some simple advice based upon my recent experience:

  • Don’t panic, you are admitted to an interview, not jail
  • Be positive and have in mind that the people talking to you want to hire the best candidate and that could be you
  • Be honest and simple, avoid deep dives into areas you are not that good at
  • Relax, and try to enjoy the process of getting to know the company and, hopefully, your future colleagues

If they like you and your skills, you are most likely to be employed or called for another interview. Sometimes, you will have to visit the company several times and talk to different people – HR representatives, team leaders, managers and software engineers. All that leads to a mutual agreement witch should signify the start of your career as a software engineer.

Keep your head up

You’ve sent your application with a simple “cover letter” to present yourself to the company. If they like it, they will pay special attention to your resume. And the resume itself should differentiate you from the others. Hopefully, you will be called for an interview and get your chance to shine.

However, the results could surprise you. The company may even fail to contact you in the first place. There is a number of reasons that can lead to this, one of them being the fact that a lot of people applies for software engineering positions and the selection process often suffers from projects deadlines.

Don’t let failures bring you down. Even better, don’t think of them as failures, consider them a form of experience. Each new attempt makes you stronger and opens up new possibilities.

If you have questions about the article, the interview processes or anything else, feel free to ask in the comment section below – I would be happy to answer. Keep your head up and good luck!


4 thoughts on “Applying for a Software Engineer position straight from college

  1. Hey Dude! 🙂 Wonderful article, to the point. It describes what is out there in the job seeking world, and the expectations from both employers and employees. I really liked what you have written, and by my humble opinion you have made a great choice procressing the particular subject as we sometimes find ourself in a search for a new or a better job oportunity. Good luck to you and I am eager to find out what subject you will be writing about next. 😀


    I just hope my insight is actually going to help, and fresh college graduates will benefit from the advice.

    I absolutely do not know what will be my next subject 🙂

  3. Hi there! Nice article. 🙂 Just a piece of advice about the experience employers usually look for (even when in search for good interns or juniors). It is, of course, implied that you have understood all the technologies you used in your school and/or home projects you previously listed in your CV. On the other hand, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you lack knowledge and experience with technologies you actually did not have opportunity to learn. Shame is for the ones who refuse to learn. One of the advantages of the young and inexperienced is the fact that they are usually willing to work hard and explore new things. Also, don’t give up to easily when being asked to solve some kind of a logical task. Just, do your best and show to the interviewer that you possess and that you are willing to use your common sense. All the best!

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Copyright: Miloš Đekić