Professional Development Strategies to Differentiate You as a SQL Server Candidate

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There are a lot of challenges when you are active in the job market. If you are applying for a position with a lot of other candidates, you'll need to determine a candidate marketing strategy that will distinguish you amongst those others, even prior to getting an interview.


Keep in mind that for each position you apply to, and new Recruiter/Manager you speak with, there are a number of things they're evaluating. It's no longer just basing a decision on whether to bring you in for an interview directly from the content of your resume. For example, when we submit a candidate for a Developer position, the immediate response now from most Managers is "Are they on GitHub? Can you send me their GitHub profile link?" Prior to calling candidates to discuss a position, most Recruiters and Talent Acquisition Specialists will do a quick online search and/or go directly to LinkedIn to look them up.

It's important, therefore, that you take other steps to improve your online presence and reputation, increase activity on relevant platforms/channels (i.e. LinkedIn, GitHub, etc.), and provide examples of your work where possible, so those candidate QA/reference checks result in positive material that reinforce your target professional candidate brand. Here are some recommendations for giving yourself a candidate competitive advantage as you start your job search and application process.

  1. Enhance your LinkedIn and other profiles. Put yourself in the shoes of a Recruiter or hiring Manager, and then do a brief audit of your LI profile. What stands out? What traits could be associated? Does it include any validation of your credibility and contributions, such as a lot of endorsements for skills listed or recommendations? Does it include any non-work aspects, such as relevant publications/posts, pet projects and community involvement? Think through any other examples or supplements you could add to your profile that aren't proprietary and those that would reinforce your skill set and credibility. Also, do a quick online search to see any other profiles that might come up, and do a quick assessment/quality assurance. Another one that employers might see is your MeetUp profile. Involvement in relevant MeetUps/User Groups could help the reviewer generate a more positive impression, so take some time to tweak the introduction so it shows your credibility and passion!

  2. Proactively provide recommendations. Seeing testimonials by peers, Managers, clients, subordinates, community leaders, etc. can instantly positively influence your brand. Get at least three recommendations from individuals that potential employers would value. For example, if you're applying for a Team Lead role, ask 1-2 individuals you've trained/mentored in the past to write you a LinkedIn recommendation, and include that experience. Once you have recommendations, if a few are extremely strong, remember that you could copy and paste those into your application/cover letter. If a Recruiter is submitting you for a position, you could request they submit some of your recommendations with your resume.

  3. Invest personal time in creating pet projects, code demos/samples and/or posts. As soon as you know you'll be starting your job search, dedicate 1-2+ hours a week towards increasing the amount of relevant content and overall strength of your portfolio. With your skill set and target career path, what deliverables give you an advantage? As we mentioned above, if you're a Developer or aspiring Developer, start creating applications and make sure they're visible online. If you're an Analyst or Project Manager, start writing a few blog or LinkedIn publications/posts relevant to your career. For example, if you're an Analyst, you could write a LinkedIn publication entitled 'Successful Requirements Gathering Meetings - What I've Learned.' If you have your own website/blog, you could write it there but then include a link to it under the 'Publications' category of your LinkedIn profile. If you're uploading personal projects to your website, YouTube channel, or GitHub profile, you can add a note at the top of the 'Summary' section of your LinkedIn profile with "View examples of my work via my GitHub profile, at __________."

  4. Add links to positive profiles. Do you have a strong LinkedIn profile, GitHub profile, online portfolio or individual website, or other online channel that showcases your work and would act as a strong positive reference and credibility check for yourself? Don't make the Manager find it. Rather, include the URL at the top of your resume and in any applications/cover letters you submit.

  5. Include technical assessment scores. Have you taken any technical tests that you have the results of? Are they strong results? If so, include the scores and possibly attach the results to your application. For example, I once worked with a candidate who requested multiple technical assessments we provided through ProveIt to help with interview preparation. He ended up getting in the 90th percentile on 6 assessments, all different programming languages. We referenced the results, including screen shots, with his application to the Manager.

  6. Technical training. Especially if you don't have experience with a technology, or version of a technology, listed as part of the requirements or preferred qualifications list of a job posting, but you have attended a user group meeting or taken training on the topic, include that on your resume and in your application. For example, if a posting asks for SQL Server 2016, you could highlight "Taken 6+ hours of training on SQL Server 2016 through Pluralsight and attended 2 user group meetings."

  7. Reference or include awards. A few months ago, I had a candidate ask me "I won a major award from the client on the launch of a new enterprise application I was a lead on that was similar to the project for this new client. Would it be helpful to include that award? I have a soft copy, and I'm allowed to share." The answer was 100%, that's a great contribution to your application/portfolio! Not only did that candidate end up getting the job, the Manager ended up allowing him to do some remote work when they had initially said that wasn't a possibility, because he was so strong! As you start your job search and you're building out your online profile/s, resume, and outline of "major professional credibility components," ask yourself "Have I won any awards, or received other accolades for any projects/work I've done?" Then, add that to an 'Awards' section of your resume, highlight in your application/s, and ask the individual/s who provided you that award for a LinkedIn recommendation or reference!

  8. Results of community or skills-based volunteering events. Have you participated in any hackathons? Technical civic/charity hackathons or events? Spoken at a SQL Saturday, SQL Server User Group or other community event? Helped a local nonprofit with technology needs? Make sure that experience is included in your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other appropriate channels. Ask for a recommendation from the organizer of the event or nonprofit. If you've presented any sessions at a technical community event, you can add the PPT or a link to the material on the event/group website to your LinkedIn profile as an example of your work, since it's not proprietary.

  9. Provide video overview/introduction. There are a number of video streaming applications geared towards helping with "candidate marketing" during the job search. Anytime you can give a prospective Manager a quick introduction of who you are, what your skills and interests are, and other key traits that make you relevant and unique via video format, that provides you a huge advantage! They say a "picture is worth a thousand words," so think about how powerful a quick 30-60 second video clip is. We've seen some candidates that provided quick professional introductions via YouTube, and others who use services such as Vimeo or Spark Hire. Once you create a candidate overview to use via your job search, you can post via LinkedIn (if you're actively looking, i.e. contract ending/ended, laid off, etc.) and also include the URL in emails/applications.

  10. Demonstrate your interest. We're actually hearing this request more and more from client: please include why the applicant is interested in the position/project/company when you submit a resume. During our Interviewing webcast, we shared that one of the top reasons a qualified candidate is ruled out during the process is "a perceived lack of interest." This concern is well within your control, and easy to mitigate and overcome! At multiple points during the process, such as in your cover letter, during the interview, and in your post interview thank you letter/email, communicate your interest in the industry, company, project/s, job, culture/team/environment, technologies being utilized, etc.! Don't assume your attendance in an interview is enough; make sure you're clearly explaining your interest level and the "why" behind your excitement. It also could help you to clearly communicate this to your Recruiter, if you're working with one.
Next Steps

Remember, submitting a resume simply isn't enough in today's competitive market. Once you've identified a position, ask yourself "what else do I have at my disposal that I can include with my resume to give myself a competitive advantage for this opportunity?" If what you have is limited, start to build out more! Again, we recommend starting to engage in the following a few months prior to actively beginning your job search and interviewing for positions:

  1. Online Reputation Management - Build out strong profiles, get recommendations that would be pertinent for the types of jobs you're applying for, share relevant content via those profiles, etc.
  2. Skills Development - Identify main tools, technologies, and skills companies/clients are asking for and invest time weekly to learn to enhance those skills
  3. Portfolio Development - Engage in pet projects, increase contributions in channels like GitHub, etc.

Also, equip any Recruiters you work with, or Referrals who are passing along your resume, with your "candidate differentiators." Consider creating a mini professional job seeker/candidate marketing package, which could include things like: URL to LinkedIn profile, writing or code sample, training segment you delivered at a community event, references, URL to GitHub profile, the site you did for a nonprofit or pet project/application, awards, etc.!

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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