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How to use narrative, niche and network to land your first tech job

Crossbeam Talent and Culture Manager Jamie Calabria has some guidance for those aiming to break into the technology field, no matter your past professional experience.

Working at Crossbeam's office. (Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post from Crossbeam. Crossbeam is a Technical.ly Talent Pro client.

This is a guest post by Jamie Calabria, talent and culture manager at Philadelphia-based software company Crossbeam.
Working 70-hour weeks for $45,000 a year. Clocking 50,000 steps before noon and driving an hour each way to do it. That was my work life not so long ago.

Tired of being worked to the bone, my body aching and erratic sleep, I quit my restaurant job with no backup plan. I wasn’t sure what was next, except that I wanted a job that allowed me space to be human, and to do the work I loved the most — building and training teams.

Five years later, I’m leading talent acquisition for a fast-growing tech startup. I advise folks every day on making the jump to tech, and have identified three key components to finding their next opportunity: Narrative, Niche and Network.

Narrative

A good company hires the whole person, not just a warm body. Technology companies continue to be more progressive in their hiring practices. They are looking for someone who will help build their culture (a “culture add”) as well as fill the technical aspects of the role — which means having a narrative around who you are and what you can bring to the team can help you land that first interview and beyond.

My first tech job was at a recruitment agency, basically a cold call sales job with a strongly built-in grind culture. Though it wasn’t my perfect job, it gave me the foundation I needed to break into the tech industry. In the first interview at that agency, I was asked, like I had been asked so many times before: “Why are you a good fit for this role?”

Here’s where the Narrative comes in. I focused on transferable skills. While I had never worked in tech, I had experience hiring and onboarding. I loved to understand my team’s motivation, identify their strengths and help them gain the skills to succeed.

It worked, I got the job and worked there for 18 months before joining my current company. For every job interview, you should have a strong and direct response when you are inevitably asked “Why are you a good fit for this role?” You may not have the direct tech experience, but the soft skills, workflows and psychology you picked up in other industries are of great use to tech companies.

Niche

Once you’ve honed your Narrative, you can point that to a Niche that you’re uniquely qualified to fill. Everyone who makes a career pivot has experience and special interests that can translate into a new role, even if it’s in a different industry.

The stories of a few folks I worked with on their pivot to tech:

Your niche + tech

I was advising a connection who spent their early career in LGBTQIA+ public health, on the ground teaching and educating the LGBTQIA+ community. The job fulfilled their purpose and passion, but they were ready to make a change that would be less physically demanding. Editing their resume, we focused on the LGBTQIA+ healthcare niche, did research on healthcare companies that overlapped with LGBTQIA+ founded companies as well as companies that served those communities, and crafted their resume and career story using the narrative we’d created around their expertise. They made a handful of pitches to the folks running those organizations and within a few weeks, they accepted their first remote job at a transgender health tech company (and doubled their salary).

Translate your skills to a tech environment

In my agency role, I worked with a candidate who was at a big healthcare company, looking for a change. Their experience was in lab data research with a background in library science. We focused our search in the healthcare field, translating their expertise in library science to UX research — specifically healthcare companies building high-volume health data projects.

After a few pitches they landed a handful of interviews and eventually a UX research job offer at a company using healthcare data to better e-learning for nursing students.

Know your tech community

When I first started recruiting with Crossbeam, we opened a business operations position. Once it was posted to our job board, I received an email from an individual who happened to work in the office across the hall from the Crossbeam office. She introduced herself to the team when the office had first opened and since then had been following the growth of the company, having a particular excitement for the product. She was managing finance and IT for a nonprofit at the time, which overlapped heavily with the role we had.

Together we worked on pitching her nontraditional background to the hiring manager, highlighting her niche experience handling several different aspects of the nonprofit’s business with her specific interest with what the company was building. Alexa Sarkuni became my first hire with the team, and she is rounding the three-year mark at Crossbeam this summer.

Every niche has its tech. Are you a personal trainer or an avid runner? Use those interests to back your pitches to fitness technology companies. Taking your learned hard skills, like bookkeeping or research, and creating a narrative around how you specifically can impact a business is how you can drive demand for your niche experience. You have the expertise — it’s about convincing others that expertise is valuable to them.

Jamie Calabria. (Courtesy photo)

Network

How do you take your niche & your narrative and turn that into a job interview? I’ll give you my own story of getting to Crossbeam as an example.

In my agency role, I cold-called Crossbeam’s CEO, Bob Moore, on a Wednesday afternoon. We had a brief but impactful conversation that showed his kindness and transparency as a leader in which he heard my pitch, explained that they weren’t working with agencies, and shared his email for future communications.

That call didn’t land me Crossbeam’s business, but it did put the company on my personal radar. After one brief interaction, I knew that Bob was the type of founder I wanted to work for, so I focused on the value I knew I could deliver during Crossbeam’s high-growth phase. I spent the next few weeks connecting with folks who worked at Crossbeam and doing my research, and found out that they had a people team leader, but no in-house recruiting team. That was my opening.

I found the job application email on their website and sent it with my narrative pitch and asked for time to discuss. Right place, right time and a compelling narrative about what I’d bring to the team led to a job offer within two weeks.

As you start your targeted search, compile a list of companies you are interested in based on your niche or personal connection. For your first tech job, narrow the list by companies with open roles; pitching yourself when there’s no open role can work, but a company actively hiring will likely be more fruitful.

It can be as simple as logging into LinkedIn, searching for a company, going to their “People” and identifying two to three team members at that company to contact. It may be the talent acquisition team member who posted an open role, the hiring manager (read the job description thoroughly to see if their title is mentioned) or even another member of the team. Use LinkedIn to connect with them (always send a nice note with the invite) or check the company website for an email address.

From there, pitch. Keep the first message casual but direct and tell them why you are a good fit for the role on their team based on your niche and narrative. End with a call to action, ask them for something: “Do you have 15 minutes to chat?” or better yet, ask them a specific question about the role or product as it pertains to your pitch.

Always end with a thank you. Remember that you’re asking a favor and even if they can’t help, they took the time to read the message.

###

You’ll be ghosted and face setbacks during your search, but by focusing on the value you can bring to a team, you’ll be reminded to repeatedly consider your worth and why you’re making this choice to move into the tech world.

Every time I work with someone seeking their first tech role, I remind them this will be the hardest job they will ever have to get. By leaning into your Narrative, Niche and Network, you can establish yourself in the tech industry and open up a world of opportunity.

Fifty-thousand steps not required.

Learn more about Crossbeam

Companies: Crossbeam
Series: How to Get a Tech Job Month 2023

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