The Trust AboutEntry-Level Engineering Employment


Job searches are one of the most confusing and frustrating of pursuits for an engineer regardless of their experience level. That said, junior engineers can feel like they are firing in the dark. Engineers are valued, high-salaried jobs with low unemployment and other options but you really need context for what finding an initial engineering job may wind up. How many companies have you applied to? What’s a normal starting salary? What roles should you focus on?

This article is backed by thousands of data points regarding engineering jobs over the last 15 months to answer the sorts of questions raised in the previous paragraph and then some. Note that this data is reflective of startups more than the general consensus.

“How Many Companies Should I Pursue?”

You should pursue every company you can until you find a paycheck source.

Answering this question depends on your criteria. A hardware engineer in Reno is focusing on a shallow talent pool but a software engineer looking for a job anywhere in the USA, with zero years of experience, tends to put in around 23 applications before finding employment. Of course, gaining employment depends on many factors:

  • The companies you care about.
  • The roles you will work.
  • VISA sponsorships and another red tape.

Applying to 23 jobs without being hired does not mean you are a failure; that number is just the average number. Further, there is no cause for worry if you have not reached 23 applications. Remember, this is not a directive to reach 23 jobs in a single day but rather a basis for comparison with your own job hunting.

“Which companies do my best chances lie with?”

Note that this is not “which company do I most want a job with?”

Early-stage companies are more willing to hire engineers with no experience. The exact breakdown of employment statistics depends on the size of the company’s staff. While companies with no more than 10 employees accounted for 56.9% of all zero-year experienced engineers, the next best odds (29.9%) come from companies with 11-50 employees. Bear in mind that despite having good odds of employment with a small startup, you should be ready to ask some hard questions before signing up.

  • Is there a senior talent for mentoring?
  • Will I receive a livable salary?
  • Do I want to work in a free environment with little structure?

Because early-stage companies are both high-risk and high-reward, you really need some firm answers on the vetting process.

“Do I apply for jobs outside my skill set?”

Lacking experience is one thing. Lacking specific qualifications for a job is another.

Just because a company requests n years of experience, that does not mean that they will automatically turn you down if you are inexperienced. That qualifier serves as a sign post for the level of workmanship that is expected of the position. Someone with no experience has a modest shot at finding work with places requiring an average of 1.5 years of experience.

Note that this is years of experience and not domain knowledge or specific skill sets. If a job requires an understanding of machine learning and you lack that understanding, you are unqualified.

If a job interests you and it seems plausibly within your ability, you are qualified.

Which roles are best for junior candidates?

Maybe you just want a job and do not care what role it takes. If so, you need to figure out which roles tend to attract inexperienced engineers. It seems that full-stack roles are the second most prolific role for junior engineers after general engineering. Full-stack roles are more prevalent at nascent startups and US-based startups are more open to junior engineers. Furthermore, infrastructure-focused positions are least likely to hire junior engineers.

“Have I failed by pulling under $200?”

No. Most entry-level roles in the United States only earn an average annual salary of $100k. San Francisco has a much higher average but even then, only its DevOps and systems engineers make over $100k.

“What do I want?”

Early-to-mid-stage startups are ideal for growth. If you want the most salary, look for established, large companies, they have the funding and revenue you really want. Want to feel like a founder? Join a seed-stage company.

The best first job comes down to what you want to do. By combining data with your interests, you can better define how your job search should go.