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Looking for web developer jobs when you don’t have much experience

A question from Duncan, one of the readers of my newsletter:

I guess my biggest (potential) hurdle, is that I don’t have a lot of previous work that I can display to employers and my resume looks something like this:  - Unrelated admin / menial jobs in my 20s - ~2 years travel / self-study - 8 months ux/design/dev agency - ~12 months travel / self-study 

YEP! I can 100% relate.

When I first made the switch, almost all of my experience up to that point had been unrelated HR work.

There are three things that made a huge difference for me and really helped me get my foot in the door.

1. Volunteer work.

We had just adopted a rescue dog, and their website was in no way representative of the awesome work they were doing. I offered to build them a new one for free.

They took me up on it, and 5 years later I’m still working with them.

My work with them has become one of the best showcases in my portfolio. Mobile traffic grew by 20x+. Annual donations doubled. They got featured in a documentary on HBO. But most importantly, it gave me some real client experience early on to include in my portfolio.

2. Open source.

I threw every tiny, inconsequential thing I learned how to do up on my blog or as free code people could use on GitHub.

When I was interviewing for jobs, I had this large body of work people could look at to get a sense for how I actually think about problems and write code.

Ethan Marcotte actually mentioned this in a recent interview I did with him.

3. Going to MeetUps and other events.

My very first official post-HR web developer role happened because some guy I met at a conference followed me on Twitter and then started digging through my open source stuff and thought I’d be a good fit for his company.

I also got interviews at some awesome places like Automattic (the folks who make WordPress) because I went to events and mentioned that I was actively looking for roles.