I moved into software engineering after 12 years in a non-technical career. I’m a self-taught developer; the most formal software training I’ve got under my belt is the 3/4 of the Codecademy Pro web development track I completed.
When it came to applying for engineering roles, my biggest concern was getting my resume to stand out. These days, companies have the advantage of a huge pool of qualified candidates to fill a small number of roles; I knew I’d be up against dozens of others competing for the same spot and many other applicants likely had better experience or more relevant education. Though I felt confident that my 1 ½ years of building projects earned me the skills to make a great Junior, the tricky part would be convincing hiring managers to also see what I saw in myself.
The previous 12 years of my career were spent in sales, cold calling and emailing people who’d never heard of me or my company to ask them for tens of thousands of dollars. The trickiest part in prospecting was standing out from other sellers and from the rest of the noise in my prospects’ inboxes. Once I finally got the prospect’s attention, I needed to deliver a compelling message that was interesting enough to get them to take another call with me. Then another call, then another call, and so on, until I got the signed contract.
How is all of this relevant to applying for jobs, you ask? Well, applying for jobs is a form of prospecting! In both cases you’re trying to stand out from the competition, get the attention of someone who’s never met you, show enough value so that they are interested in having a conversation with you, and then once you’ve sold them on the conversation, get them - in a very short span of time - to trust you enough to bet on you.
Okay so here’s the point of this post - you don’t have to be a stellar salesperson to get the attention of recruiters. I’m going to tell you about the one game-changing prospecting tactic that I attribute to my success in switching careers.
Using video in prospecting can increase reply rates by 25%. Video helps to:
- Establish a human connection between you and the recipient
- Cause the recipient to become familiar with and comfortable with you
- Make you noticeable and memorable
- Convey emotion and context that is difficult to derive from written text
…in other words, video gives you the ability to STAND OUT!
Two types of videos work best when it comes to job applications:
Project Demos: short overview video of a project in your portfolio. You may or may not be on camera. In this video, you’ll walk through your completed project (not the code).
Introduction Videos: short video introducing yourself, talking about your professional accomplishments and personal interests, and explaining why you are a fit for the role (think cover letter, but in video form). You’ll be on camera for this one.
Keep in mind that you don't need to spend a lot of time making these videos. If you find yourself working for hours on editing and adding special effects, you’re doing too much! In fact, videos that look too marketing-y (yeah, I said it) can actually leave a negative impression on the hiring manager. Remember, the goal is to show you – the authentic, real, human you. Once you’ve completed your portfolio project, designate a half hour max to making the demo video. This includes writing up bullet points about what you want to talk about, practicing, and recording.
Learned this from my marketing friends – it’s important to keep the length down. Demo videos should be no more than 2 minutes but the shorter, the better. If you’re like me, you may find yourself thinking “there’s no way this video will be longer than 40 seconds” only to realize you’ve recorded a 5 min 26 second intro! Keep it short and sweet to avoid losing the attention of your audience.
When using the videos in an email, stick the video in the body of the email - not as an attachment or link. We want to put the fewest number of clicks between the recipient and the actual video in order to make it easy for him/her to access. Links and attachments are also too easy to overlook; including the video in the body of the email prevents the hiring manager from accidentally missing your video entirely. If you have to use a link, make sure to draw attention to it using bold, capitalized text that clearly draws attention to the fact that it’s a SHORT PRODUCT DEMO VIDEO.
“…but I’m filling out applications on the company website. Where should I put my videos?”
I get it - for most of the jobs you’ll be applying for you’ll be applying using a form on a website. There may not necessarily be somewhere to stick the videos (like in an email). Some ideas:
- Oftentimes, there is an additional field for “attachments” where you can stick your CV and other relevant materials to your application. Attach your video to your application here.
- If you’ve put together an online portfolio, embed the demo videos on your portfolio page.
- For the top 5-10 companies you’re applying to, use LinkedIn or on the company website to find out who the hiring manager is and email them directly (video included, of course). Include a demo video in a message the day before the interview telling them how excited you are for the upcoming interview and that you wanted to send along a demo you made them of a project that showcases your skills in (insert skill relevant to role).
- After the interview, include a demo video in a thank you email. Or, use a video as your thank you email. Send a recording of you thanking the interviewer for their time and re-iterating why you’re a perfect fit for the role.
Given that we only have a couple of minutes to convey our message, it’s important to sound both interesting and human. Have fun with it! It’s okay to stumble on your words a bit (all part of being human). If you consider yourself a novice when it comes to public speaking, practice using a relaxing tempo and voice inflections that make you sound interested in the product you’re demonstrating.
As a seller, this is the one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart (and probably the most important). Talk about the value of your portfolio project from the user’s perspective. You don’t need to answer every single one of these questions in the video, but here are some ideas of ways to get into the user’s shoes?
- What problem is your project solving?
- In what ways does this feature make something easier or better for the people using it?
- What did you put in the app to make it a product that your users will want to use?
- What considerations did you make for other people who might be working with you on this project if it were for a company?
- Intro videos - why you for this role? What do you like about this company? What can you bring to the table?
Let’s say you’ve built a weather-forecasting app that you want to showcase through video. You used aria-labels, color contrast, and gentle transitions that make your app more accessible. In your video, make sure to call out how you put some serious thought into accessibility because you know how important it is for apps to be accessible to all.
There are lots of great free options, but my favorites are Vidyard and OBS. What I like about Vidyard is that you can see when someone has watched your video. OBS is better if you’re trying to do more cutting and editing (probably overkill for a demo video, but a great option for introduction videos).
- Watch for “Crazy Mouse” – limit the shaky, jarring mouse movement
- Use Animated Thumbnails or Gifs in your email to draw attention to your video
- Keep in mind that most emails these days (yes, even work emails) are read from mobile devices. It’s best to put some text before your video, but limit it to 200-400 characters that include an eye-catching first sentence.
Have you used video in a job application? What other tips would you add?