Professional Development
Coding / Hiring / Tech jobs

Why is it so hard to find entry-level software engineering jobs?

An analysis, and tips to land a role. Plus, good news: The tides may be turning, according to the most recent data.

The line to get into the 2024 NET/WORK jobs fair during Philly Tech Week (Christopher Wink/Technical.ly)
It’s a hard time to get into the software engineering industry, as coders seeking entry-level jobs have been discovering.

At Technical.ly’s NET/WORK jobs fair in Philadelphia this week, there was a line to get in that stretched around the block. Upstairs, the room was packed with aspiring software devs and others seeking to break into the industry.

Meanwhile, the cohort of hiring companies was smaller than pre-pandemic years — and not offering many early-career positions, according to some job-seekers.

“You go to all of these booths and they’re looking for ‘head of department this’ or ‘senior-level that,’” said attendee Alex Ramos, who graduated from college in 2021. “There are no entry-level positions. Each place has like maybe three openings, and most of them are senior level.”

Even when there are positions open, the requirements can seem paradoxical.

“I feel like entry-level jobs now require ridiculous amounts of experience,” one early-career software engineer told Technical.ly, asking to remain anonymous to avoid jeopardizing future job prospects. “I wish there was a system that actually filtered for entry-level roles.”

Data sourced from LinkedIn in January backs up the sentiment.

Across several hundred job listings resulting from a query for “entry-level software engineer” in the Philly area, the average minimum experience required was 4.5 years.

A layoff-saturated market without geographic constraints

How did this situation arise? Aggressive overhiring during COVID to serve a population suddenly forced into online-only work, school and other activities, tech recruiter Greg Zazzarino told Technical.ly. Post-lockdown, consumer demand for internet services fell — just as the so-called “cheap money era” of zero interest rate policy came to an end,

Companies responded with massive staff cutbacks. There were over 262,000 layoffs in the IT sector in 2023, according to NerdWallet, a jump of 60% from the previous year. The only comparable year with such a rapid pace of tech firings was two decades ago: in 2001, when the dot com bubble dramatically burst.

This resulted in a supply and demand imbalance, with an oversaturation of developers who’d been hired during COVID and then laid off.

Young white man in a blue suit presenting a document at a crowded professional event.

Alex Ramos at the 2024 NET/WORK jobs fair during Philly Tech Week (Danya Henninger/Technical.ly)

The hiring environment shifted from being essentially a “buyer’s market” where candidates had their pick of the litter, Zazzarino said, into a “seller’s market,” where companies had the upper hand.

Remote work only added to the competitiveness, as the candidate pool for each position was not geographically constrained.

That geographic freedom also applies internationally. American software developers are more expensive than devs in many other countries, and junior positions are the most susceptible to this trend. The average salary of a developer in London is around $66,000, according to data reported by the Wall Street Journal, versus about $175,000 in New York City and $106,000 in Cleveland.

Signs of a turnaround in the data?

Good news for people trying to get hired, though: Winds may be shifting.

Anecdotally, people at the NET/WORK jobs fair still felt the pinch. Though they were glad to get their free headshots and meet people, two nursing professionals looking to break into tech told Technical.ly they hadn’t found any applicable positions.

But the data is showing what looks like signs of turnaround. In April, the same LinkedIn query from January returned very different results.

Instead of 4.5 years, the average minimum experience required in the job listings was just 2 years. This was true not just in the Philadelphia region but across several US metro areas.

The mini-reversal of the trend is borne out by national data. The number of new job openings per day in public software companies has ticked up since the start of 2024, according to reporting from Bloomberry, suggesting that hiring for may be beginning to return.

Tips for getting hired anyway

Despite these headwinds, there are ways to get your foot in the door. An entry-level or early-career developer needs to do more than hit the “Apply” button on a website to get ahead.

One of the key activities a developer can engage in is networking, Travis Southard, co-director of Code for Philly, told Technical.ly: “People get jobs by talking to people.”

Two Black women smiling at a networking event, one in a striped shirt and the other in a polka dot blouse, both wearing glasses and name tags.

Sedia Massaquoi and Faith Sarnor at the 2024 NET/WORK jobs fair during Philly Tech Week (Danya Henninger/Techincal.ly)

Participating in community-benefitting, open-source projects like the one Southard runs are another effective way to stand out. It’s important for a developer to know how to work with other people, given that it is a critical skill that is not always taught well. Code for Philly lets developers find projects to work on collaboratively. Locating an open source tech tool that is growing and contributing to a code base is another way to go about this.

Presenting well online is another factor that can improve the chances of getting a role, according to Zazzrino, the tech recruiter.

This includes presenting a strong portfolio and an optimized LinkedIn profile. A developer should ensure that the basic things are filled out, such as a photo, having an adequate summary, and including appropriate keywords in the description. If these basic things aren’t filled out, Zazzarino said, the profile simply won’t show up to recruiters.

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