3 Simple Steps to Land Software Engineering Interviews During the Pandemic (ft. New Grads)

Published: October 29, 2020
Michelle Bui
By Michelle Bui
10 min read
3 Simple Steps to Land Software Engineering Interviews During the Pandemic (ft. New Grads)

Didn’t get that technical phone screen from a FAANG company?

Didn’t have three drops of blood and a pinch of werewolf hair to land an interview?

Didn’t realize the universe started a pandemic to throw a wrench in your career plans?

Don’t be scared --Even if ghosts, ghouls, and witches are lurking around the corner, Halloween will soon pass and so will your job prospecting fears!

Right now may be the worst time for entry level engineers in the job market but even with limited positions available, there’s still a way to nab a job during these apocalyptic times and climb above the hardship. In this article, I’ll give you the secret to only sacrificing three drops of blood to get closer to that software engineering job you’ve been thirsting for.

#1 To Network or not to Network? That is the Question


Call me Captain Obvious, but before you can ace an interview, you need to actually land the interview. And according to my compass, that points us in the direction of a truly compelling resume. Currently, entry level engineering roles are significantly limited because of the pandemic. Companies have had to adjust their budgets to accommodate the new world we live in and most of the open roles are aimed towards mid level and senior engineers. Afterall, there’s enough of them laid off or fearing the job prospects of their current company that results in a larger pool of experienced engineers to prey on and sink their fangs in. So how’s an entry level engineer, who is soon to graduate supposed to embark on a journey towards a budding career with a flimsy document that has a couple of small projects listed and a long list of tools and buzzwords that you hope companies never quiz you on?

Well, for starters, you could ask your friends or colleagues for a reference and hopefully land an interview that way. People have been extremely generous during the pandemic so don’t fret if you need to reach out to your network or even a complete stranger; it doesn’t hurt to ask as long as you’re polite and mindful of another person’s energy and efforts. Some sites where you can find someone willing to refer you may be LinkedIn, Reddit, and TeamBlind. It’s as simple as starting a conversation thread with someone, making a post explaining your situation, or directly messaging them. Another site that may prove useful in getting referrals is Pramp although it won’t be as simple as a touch of a button. Pramp is a platform that facilitates free peer to peer interviewing so if you’re paired with someone who you develop a good repertoire with, you may get a referral. Attending other online events where you can meet people and grow your network will also increase the odds of getting your foot in the door.

Now, I know some of you are not a fan of networking or perhaps asking for help is not an easy feat but FEAR NOT! There is an alternative! Networking did not come naturally to me throughout my career so instead, I sought to optimize every aspect in the process of getting an interview that I possibly could. So for all you recluses out there, this next one's for YOU.


Photo by Slim Emcee on Unsplash

If your energy is not directed towards networking, then you need to invest extra effort into your resume, cover letter, and online personality. The first way to do this is to create a resume with a POP to it. Most resumes follow the standard black and white template like this one below:

Generic Resume

Can you imagine sifting through thousands and thousands of EXACTLY the same thing again and again? Get ready to gouge your eyes out. We’ve gone virtual now! You don’t need to worry about paying extra for colored ink. Use Canva! You get a nicely formatted, fun colored, attractive resume for $0.00. Personally, I would go with the sage green minimalist template.

Green Resume

And I know, some of you are still thinking who cares if my resume looks “pretty”? I got straight A’s in school and I’m the captain of 3 ½ academic clubs. Well, if you need more convincing, let’s take a page straight from Head First Java which states that your brain craves novelty. Recruiters have to manually scan through hundreds of resumes in less than five seconds. Imagine you’re in their place, sitting in your gray cubicle, eyes glued to the monitor. It’s past your lunch break and your butt has yet to leave the chair. You’re looking through one resume after another for the third year in a row, and they’re all the same: black and white, packed with information that takes ten minutes to read through and all you have are seconds. Wouldn't you pause for that one resume that didn’t look quite like the rest? That one that used a splash of orange and had a sleek design?

The resume that stands out gets a second glance. That second glance is your ticket in.

#2 Choose Your Weapon: Shotgun or Rifle?

Max Okhrimenko

Photo by Max Okhrimenko on Unsplash

When applying for a job, there are two philosophies: the shotgun approach or the rifle approach. For those of you not well versed on those terms, find the definitions below:

shot·​gun ap·​proach | \ ˈshät-ˌgən ə-ˈprōch\

Definition of shotgun approach:

Subject is indiscriminate and haphazard, using breadth, spread, or quantity in lieu of accuracy, planning, etc. Example: You, the programmer, shot your resume to a thousand companies irrespective of the role and level required

ri·​fle ap·​proach | \ ˈrī-fəl ap·​proach\

Definition of rifle approach:

Subject focuses on a target and a clearly-defined audience effectively and efficiently. Example: You, the programmer, tailored your resume to fit the needs of the company and only applied to places that aligned with their mission and values.

Now which of one these approaches do you think is better?

Like most questions in life, the answer is not one or the other, it’s a mix of both.

Let’s first go with the idealistic, rifle approach. You spend all your sweat and blood crafting your resume, writing the perfect cover letter, and researching the company. You spend hours sifting through job postings, devouring each requirement and fantasizing what life would be like if you were a part of the company. Then you spend many sleepless nights tailoring your resume even further until it’s just perfect as perfect can be. And, you send it off. You repeat this process for another ten companies and you wait. Maybe they’ll get back to you. Maybe they won’t. At least you knew you gave it your best shot. It’s a noble sentiment but it’ll only get you so far. This approach is great for places you have your heart set on. Smaller to medium sized companies appreciate the effort, they do give you brownie points… but brownies are not your bread and butter. If you only shoot your resume to ten places hoping that the universe lands you your dream job, keep dreaming. I know without a doubt that you will for sure get your dream job one day, but I’m also sure that day is unlikely to be now. Whatever crazy ambition you’ve got cooked up, know that it takes time and working towards it might entail working some nightmare jobs that don’t end after Halloween. So, how do you go about landing these seemingly soul torturing jobs? The answer my dear friends, is the shotgun approach.

The shotgun approach is good for those jobs that you might like but you’re not actually sure about. It’s for the places that you can’t muster enough energy to give a rat’s ass about. OR you care so much about the opportunity that you subconsciously fear it will deplete you of energy if you become disappointed by what could have been or might have been. For places like that, a shotgun approach is the way to go. So here’s what you do: set a goal to send out at least 35 resumes a week to different states, different business domains, and different engineering roles (frontend, backend, devops, infrastrastructure, mobile, web development, quality assurance, solutions engineering, etc). It’ll get you in the groove of applying on a consistent basis and give you a better idea of the job market. It does not matter whether or not you plan to move there, or are “passionate” about the company, or think you’re qualified for the job. What matters is you tried and that you acknowledge you are not God Almighty who knows what the future holds. You just finished college. Let’s be real here. You might actually be surprised to find you like that one company you spent zero time to research about but gave you a chance to interview. You might be intrigued by that Artificial Intelligence role in the buttf*ck of nowhere Missouri despite having your heart set on Silicon Valley. You might be grateful that someone bothered to try and recruit you when no other company gave you a chance. You see where I’m getting at? Take a bit of sweet old advice from Forrest Gump kiddos because, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,” and you better ,”Run Forrest Run,” run towards your goals as fast as you can, however you can, because if you don’t, someone will beat you to it.

Andy Falconer

Photo by Andy Falconer on Unsplash

#3 And Now, We Wait.

Nordwood Themes

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

You’ve done all that you feel you possible can, you’re at a standstill yet again. No companies have gotten back to you except maybe an auto reject. Now what? Well, now you work on things that will add value to you in terms of your career. Pick up a new language or build an application and put it in production. There are some naysayers to this approach of spending all of your extra time coding instead of having a life but until you get a job or an internship or a change of direction in life, keep running towards your goal. Pivot when you need to but don’t let yourself drown in apathy from being rejected; that is the kiss of death. Try picking up a book like Designing Data-Intensive Applications where you don’t have to code but will give you a good start into system design. And if you really, really, really, cannot and will not spend any more of your time invested into coding and you “just” want a job already, I have some good news for you. My next article will be about how to get a software engineering job without having to compete with other software engineers. But until then, I want to know what your thoughts are on getting a job during the pandemic. What has the experience been like for you? What have you tried? Have you used these tips? Let me know in the comments section down below!

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