Tips for web development applicants

17 October 2021

At Klima, we are currently hiring a junior frontend web developer, and I was tasked with finding the right person to join the team. Usually, a web dev position at a startup in Berlin attracts many people, so I have the privilege of picking from a large amount of applicants. While reading these applications, I noticed some recurring pitfalls that people fell into, so I want to highlight some of them here in the hopes of “future generations” learning from it.

Research the company you’re applying to.

Check out their website in detail, try out their products (if possible), figure out their industry, team size, details about how they work, etc. – then show how you are matching these things in your application. Doing a bit of research before handing in your application will show that you really care about the company and that you pay attention to details. It might also help you mitigate any requirements you are not matching yet – e.g. if you’ve never worked as a professional developer in a team before but gathered some team experience in other positions or contexts.

Give context with your code examples.

Rather than just listing a bunch of projects you’ve worked on, you could pick a selection (e.g. a top 3) and highlight why you did them and why they were a success. Are you passionate about a certain topic and that’s why you picked that topic for your project? Did you want to learn a certain technology and this project forced you to get more into it? Did you want to practice git or other collaborative aspects during a team project? Mention these things! If you show a simple portfolio project without any context, it will be OK at best – but if you use it to demonstrate that you learned React and Next.js within 3 weeks and deployed everything to the public web, then it’s an impressive achievement.

Don’t underestimate the readme.md.

I’ve come across many GitHub repositories with either no or a default readme file. This already leaves a slightly bad impression because a readme file helps document the repo to everyone who reads it, especially people looking at the repo for the first time. Take 5 minutes to edit the readme.md file and explain what the repo is about and what its basic commands are (e.g. for installing dependencies and running the local build).

Be specific and honest about your skillset.

It’s always easy to claim generic things like “I love building perfect products”. But these phrases are usually hard to believe if they are not backed up by specific examples. What is a perfect product in that case anyway? Are you referring to its UI/UX, its performance, its modular codebase or something else? And why did you get the job done well? Did you research or learn something along the way? Answering these questions will turn generic claims into tangible experiences that will open the door to proper discussions. And it’s more likely that people will actually believe you.

Have an idea of where you want go in the future.

Especially for junior positions, it’s super helpful to know what the applicant actually wants to do in the near and further future. Do they already know React but now want to learn more about TypeScript and then maybe also explore a bit of backend development or transition into data science? Even if these wishes cannot always be 100% fulfilled, they show that you’re planning ahead and have ambition to learn and grow. Ideally, you’re also aware where your weak spots are and that you need to improve them (e.g. if you never wrote tests or used React hooks). I’d much rather hire an honest person that knows where they need to go than someone who claims to know everything already (and is probably wrong about it). After all, software development is about constant learning and exploring.

Closing remarks

Of course, I’m a biased person. I love learning, humbleness and honesty. But I think at least some other companies will care about the above-mentioned qualities as well. So, I hope these tips inspire some people to improve their cover letters and perhaps resumes and gain the attention they might deserve. Happy applying!