If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated how the web has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Remote work wouldn’t have been possible without a variety of web-based services and apps; people stayed sane through online gaming, e-commerce, and other screen-based activities.
Multiple types of technologists contribute to keeping the online world running. Within this ecosystem, though, back-end web developers play an outsized role. As organizations everywhere build out their online capabilities, now is an excellent time to pivot to a career as a back-end web developer—but how can you make sure your application and résumé stand apart in a crowded marketplace?
We spoke to several hiring managers to find out what they want in back-end web developers, and how you can craft a résumé that catches the eye and earns you job interviews.
What Hiring Managers Want from Back-End Web Developers
Oftentimes, it’s all about skills. Ninh Tran, CEO and co-founder at A.I.-enabled hiring firm Stealth, tells Dice: “I am looking at if they have the tech stack that we are looking for. Namely, it's a MERN stack as we require React.js, Express.js, Node.js, and MongoDB. Further, I am looking for how many years do applicants have in each language and how many projects or work experience they have in this tech stack or each language.”
Kevin Ng, CTO and co-founder of Wildbeest, adds that education can also prove a sizable factor. “The technical skillset is a must,” he says. “The engineer needs to be, in most cases, proficient or an expert in the desired technical stack. I first look at their educational background and their work experience. A formal CS education illustrates they have the core knowledge of programming, design patterns, and the ability to understand the fundamentals to problem solve.”
Jonathan Tian, co-founder of Mobitrix, says an ideal résumé shows candidates “taking an interest in the whole application lifecycle, formulating clean code to foster practical web applications, investigating and troubleshooting applications, performing UI tests, and enhancing execution.” In other words, a diverse skillset can help you land that vital job interview.
Stephanie Donahole of eTatvasoft emphasizes the “experience of the candidate,” including past roles, achievements, and responsibilities. Proficiency in multiple frameworks is critical. For those who are applying to more senior-level roles as back-end web developers, she adds, “if the candidate has management experience, then I would look for and assess your leadership and management skills along with the level of technical proficiency.”
Is It Important to List Your GitHub Profile on A Back-End Developer Résumé?
“Normally, I don't consider checking the GitHub profile of a back-end web developer,” Donahole says. “But if the developer has mentioned creating an open-source library or even a reusable component that has been kept on GitHub, then I would surely review it.”
If you’re active in open source, listing your GitHub profile is a great way to show hiring managers you’re passionate—as well as how you work. “A GitHub profile tells me how active candidates are in the open-source community, when they started coding, and when was the last time they contributed to the open-source community,” Tran adds.
During a job interview, you may face questions about your open-source contributions, too. “Listing any type of code source control is a must for me,” Ng adds. “It doesn't matter much if they're using Github/Gitlab/Bitbucket as long as I can review code and see their ability to continue to contribute to repositories.”
Ng often asks prospective employees to “walk through” some code they’ve written: “I ask them to explain the problem they are trying to address and how they solved it. I also like to have them discuss what other approaches they took prior to deciding to go with the one implemented. This is usually followed up with a code challenge so they can demonstrate their ability to follow directions, solve a problem, and adhere to company Git flow.”
Do Hiring Managers Want to See a Portfolio of Work?
Your GitHub profile tells a potential boss what you can do vis-à-vis the open-source community. Should you also list your own side projects as part of a back-end web developer résumé and application materials?
It may be a good move, Tran says: “I am looking for how many years do applicants have in each language and how many projects or work experience they have in this tech stack or each language.”
When reviewing a résumé, “I think a portfolio is the one thing that gives me a better understanding of the capabilities of a candidate,” Donahole adds. “I look for the experience candidates have, the kind of projects a developer has worked on, and the type of technologies a developer has used. Reading between the lines, I can also get an idea about a developer's skills just by looking at the portfolio, whether or not a developer can handle complex projects or challenging situations, and how committed they are to their work.”
But Ng disagrees: “Their portfolio isn't that high on my list, but just several previous sites/projects they have contributed to is enough for me to use to understand their experience. Having them walk me through their work and explain what part they've worked on is key. It's usually a good opportunity to lead in how they work with a team of engineers, designers, and project managers.”
In other words, listing your projects may add value, but don’t rely too much on it—interviewers have lots of ways of evaluating your experience and skills.
What Earns Back-End Developer Candidates an Interview?
All the experts we spoke to agree that the perfect tactic for landing an initial job interview as a back-end web developer is one you already know: A well-formatted résumé that highlights the appropriate skills for the role, as well as demonstrated achievements or accomplishments. Supplement this with links to previous projects and possibly a GitHub repo, and your chances of a callback will only go up.
Just keep in mind that, when looking over dozens (or hundreds!) of résumés, hiring managers always want to know more. A great résumé gets you in the door, but you should also think through your professional history and rehearse answers to possible questions about your experience and background—the job interview almost always goes into far greater depth.