It’s that time of year when millions of college graduates raise their diplomas high, throw their caps in the air, and sally forth to make their marks in the world — or so commencement speakers have told them they will do. If they are like I was, lo those many years ago — and most probably are — then their first thought about those newly completed four, five, or even six years of college is, “Wow! That went quick.” Their second thought, for those without a trust fund, is, “I gotta find a job!”
Landing that first self-supporting job has always been tough for new grads and, depending on individual circumstances, can be very stressful. In my case, because I had a pregnant wife and a toddler to support, I worked construction during the day, delivered pizzas at night, and did weekend shifts as a bouncer at a local watering hole. (Important Life Tip: When attempting to persuade a drunken biker to vacate the establishment, make sure he isn’t holding a pool cue.)
Back then, I applied to every job available, but was continuously told that I lacked the desired (or required) “job-related experience.” It's probably the most common hurdle faced by new grads, and the experience gap is still with us in 2017. Fortunately, for tech newly minted tech grads, there are a lot of IT jobs available. Unfortunately, you’ve still got to convince a potential employer that while you may lack “actual experience,” you do possess the skills and knowledge to do the job.
If you’re a recent grad, here are a few tips to help you land that first IT job — and hopefully avoid a visit to the emergency room. (Pool cues cause pain.)
Push Soft Skills
The role of IT inside of organizations is changing. No longer are IT pros those unusual people in the backroom who do unknown things with computers. IT staff still work with the technology, but nowadays they are also increasingly collaborating with all departments and aspects of an entity from budgets to facilities. Because of this changing role, employers need IT pros who can communicate easily and work with others in a variety of situations.
During interviews make sure to stress your ability to play nice with others. Make sure you have a good example of a time you faced conflict while working on a team, and how you handled it. Employers value those who can think out of the box and solve problems, and most agree that it’s easier to develop IT skills than soft skills.
It’s important to show the interviewer that you want the position, but it’s just as important to show them why you want it. Make sure to do your homework and research the position, the company, and the field for potential advances and challenges. Be able to explain why you are attracted to their business, and express your motivation to join them based on the work they are doing and how you can help them. Passion is infectious, it can’t be faked, and employers appreciate those who have it.
Highlight any hobbies that are pertinent to the position or company. Make sure the interviewer knows that, in your spare time, you like to build robots, websites, apps, and/or computers, participate in hackathons, and anything else applicable. Doing so shows that you aren’t just looking for a job in the tech arena, but that tech is how you like to spend your time! (If it isn't how you like to spend your time, then you may be , as they say, looking for love in all the wrong places.)
Even video game playing can help. Be prepared to explain what it is you like about the games you play, and what you’ve learned from playing them. But use caution. Don’t say you like to play Grand Theft Auto because you’ve always wanted to be a homicidal maniac. Instead, pick a more acceptable game and stress that you “enjoy solving puzzles and finding connections between objectives,” or that you’ve learned to be thorough and patient. This can show an employer that you are someone who can stick with challenging tasks. Maybe even explain what you would design differently about a well-known game, and why. It shows you are thinking and looking for ways to improve on a product or process.
Finding a good job after graduation has always been a challenge. But if you stay positive, keep at it, and use the above tips where applicable, you’ll soon be on the road to a rewarding IT career, and not merely mixed in with the millennial crowd that Newsweek refers to as #GenerationScrewed.
About the Author — Calvin Harper is an associate editor for GoCertify and a veteran of the publishing industry. The commencement speaker at Calvin's graduation was Soupy Sales. As salutatorian, Calvin received the honor of concluding Sales' remarks by nailing him in the face with a chocolate creme pie.