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Breaking the entry-level job wall

I’ve spent a lot of my free time during the last 10 years tutoring professionally in the computer science area and I’ve also helped friends and collegues with their financial and career goals over the years. However, even with my credentials and experience, I’ve yet to find a global solution to getting a job. I had to go through interviews, I had to do my own job search, I’ve paid for a professional resume, I had to spend time analysing salary ranges, I had to accept being underpaid, I’ve had oportunities of relocating for better pay, and I’ve had situations where I’ve had to replace a job with another because life offered you a different road, and ofcourse I’ve accepted jobs because of the salary.

I started out as a regular .VB .Net developer, changed to Ruby, then to Haskel, Python and ultimately ended up as an ABAP developer. Talk about a roller coaster. Let me tell you how I got my career job.

The job that introduced me to the ERP (enterprise resource planning) industry I applied without expecting to be called – I was still working as a tutor and contract developer for the university I attended (you can also try that if you haven’t – there’s a good chance your college needs IT). I still had 3 classes to go, but I got called thanks to the experience I had on my resume. “6 months experience as a developer” (which is achievable by anyone if they just get out of the house and offer some websites around the town) & “looking for an entry level job” were the only keys. I got called into an interview for a job as a developer where I didn’t know the language, the tool, the company, the industry or even the location of the site.

Going into that interview taught me two things.

  • Programming is programming in every language
  • Honesty shows interest in growth

I had the job. I didn’t know the language, I’ve never touched the tool. But I was honest with it. “I’m willing to learn” is something I live by and it has payed of. After the interview I had an offer letter for an SAP Consultant job as an abap developer for an Aerospace IT site on the island.

An ABAP developer, that didn’t know ABAP.

The offer letter started with a salary of around 37,000 a year. In Puerto Rico, that’s a great salary for someone straight out of college so I took it without much issues – but I would be lying if I said I didn’t search for comparable salaries for that title. ABAP developers avarage salary started at 60,000 USD a year for level 1 positions.

Should I have asked for more? This is something I always ask people when they ask me to comment on their offers. If they get offered a lower than expected salary they always push back with “But others are getting more”. Here’s where you have to match your expectations. I’ve had people lose oportunities for trying to get greedy, instead of searching for payroll tables they searched in glassdoor only to be disapointed when they didn’t get the offer they wanted or the employer declined and retrieted the offer.

An entry-level job is exactly that. Your first door into a career. You don’t want to close a door for a couple of bucks. If you really feel like a salary doesn’t match your career path – then search for average salary values based on your state’s cost of living. Here in Puerto Rico we don’t pay federal taxes, and housing is cheaper than the states and our healthcare is cheaper – so our $60,000 will probably equate to almost $80,000 in the states.

Here’s the trap: If you search for a developer’s salary in google, chances are you’ll see people earning over $100,000. However, which state are those people living in? What are their cost of living? What’s their take home pay? You have to match your expectations to reality – you are competing against people that will probably have no problem taking in a first job for whatever amount they get offered. Don’t delay that, break the wall.

Once you have an entry level position, your title becomes part of your resume – you can start absorbing as much as you can from this job so you can later search for another higher paying job (or even get a promotion to bring you up to industry standard levels).

The Key is handling expectations. Sometimes is better to eat our ego and be a bit humble. A year with a job beats a year with no experience. So as a tip, to catch a break in your career, be prepared to accept an entry level position that you’ll enjoy without looking too much into ‘other values’. Do be alert on actual local cost of living and compare salaries of the same level within your area though – you don’t want to work for free – but don’t oversell yourself and lose an opportunity to grow. Remember that getting a job doesn’t mean you’re a prisoner of the employer, you want to learn and add value to the company. If they see the growth they’ll do everything possible to keep you, and if that’s not enough for you, you can just search for another.

If you’re serious about being a developer, or ready to graduate from a computer science program – then I can comfortably say, you’ll be alright – motivation starts by loving what you do, so don’t inflate expectations on your entry level job, enjoy and learn from it, apply with the expectation of getting the job, follow up with independent recruiters, and make a finance plan while you’re starting out so you have a base to ask for more when needed.

Written by Abdiel

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