As a high school student in Chicago, Melvin Hernandez was accepted into the engineering program at a prestigious local university. However, because he was an undocumented immigrant, he didn’t qualify for in-state tuition.
Melvin is one of the DREAMers (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors). These young people came to the United States as children and typically identify as Americans. Thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was established in 2012, they’re able to work legally, but they still aren’t considered residents—a status that can make affording college difficult.
With the cost of a four-year university degree out of reach, Melvin instead got an associate degree in engineering science and computer engineering and went to work as a technician in the electronics repair industry. After two years, he opened his own business, diagnosing and repairing hardware and software problems and maintaining a five-star rating among his customers.
Still, he knew his career prospects would be better if he furthered his education. The Northwestern Coding Boot Camp appealed to him because of both the school’s reputation and the affordability of the program.
“For me, this was a great opportunity,” said Melvin. “Many people think they need a bachelor’s degree to get a good job, but boot camp is more accessible and more affordable for people in my situation.”
Within one month of earning his award of completion from coding boot camp, Melvin had secured a position as a web developer at LocusView Solutions in Chicago. He eventually landed a promotion as a software engineer.
Here are his top five tips for landing the job of your dreams—whether you’re a DREAMer or a dreamer.
1. Set a goal
Melvin went into coding boot camp with the goal of getting a job within three months of graduation. He did it within one.
“I didn’t want to spend a long time looking for a job, losing steam, and possibly having to do something other than coding in the meantime just to get by,” Melvin said. “It was important to me to keep my motivation up and stay focused on my goal.”
To get a jump-start on his search before the boot camp even ended, Melvin spent plenty of time working with the career services office and fine-tuning his interview skills. Which leads to his second tip…
2. Reach out for help
“I spent a lot of time with Misty from the career services office,” said Melvin. “Being self-employed, I wasn’t used to applying for jobs. She gave me a lot of great advice, like recommending that I tailor my résumé specifically to each position I applied for.”
Following this advice, Melvin spent up to an hour crafting his résumé for every application—and it worked. Websites like LinkedIn and Indeed let job seekers see whether companies have viewed their application. After working with the career services office, Melvin noticed that his application was being opened more frequently—and he was being contacted more often.
“You have to use all the resources available to you,” he said.
3. Be employer-competitive
When you’re looking for a job, there’s a difference between being employer-ready and employer-competitive—and the career services office helped Melvin understand that difference.
Employer-ready candidates have the necessary skills to do the job, but don’t always make it past the screening process. Employer-competitive candidates go a step beyond, spending time networking and actively reaching out.
“It’s about being proactive,” said Melvin. “I wanted to be all-in and to change careers. I knew that making boot camp and the job search my top priority would pay off.”
4. Don’t let rejection get you down
When he first began sending out applications, Melvin didn’t get a lot of responses. Even when he started getting interviews, he didn’t always nail them.
“You can’t get discouraged,” he said. “It’s important to keep getting out there. You never know when making a contact will pay off later, even if you didn’t get that particular job.”
Melvin said boot camp helped prepare him for situations he’d face “in the real world.” Rejection is one of those things everyone has to face sooner or later. “You have to get past it and try again,” he said.
5. Hone your soft skills
Ultimately, Melvin landed his dream job not because he was the most technically impressive candidate but because he brought so many soft skills to the table.
“The soft skills I learned at boot camp were just as important as the hard skills,” he said. “Things like being organized and patient, being able to take a break and step back when you run into a problem so you can get past it—that’s invaluable in the workplace.”
Melvin’s positive attitude, perseverance, and aptitude for problem-solving helped him succeed in boot camp and are already serving him well in his career. These are skills every enrollee needs to learn to get through the program.
“Boot camp was challenging,” he said. “Don’t underestimate the amount of work, even part-time.”
As Melvin predicted, however, all the hard work was worth it in the end. He chased his dreams and he loves where they led him.
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