So I want to take a minute to talk about the job situation across the nation. I don’t want to, and therefore won’t, dive into politics on the matter. But a lot of folks are less fortunate than me and are finding themselves either unemployed, under employed or doing jobs they dislike just to make ends meet.
I’m fortunate because since I was young, I had an affinity for technology. My dad nurtured that aspect in me and encouraged me to continue with it throughout high school.
In college, I knew my major was going to be Computer Science the moment I arrived. But I held back on declaring because I had to choose between two disciplines of Computer Science: the systems track (focus on programming, networking and hardware) or the artificial intelligence track (which involved more esoteric programming and some psychology courses). After sampling both choices, I went systems because of less theory and more market applicable skills.
Life after college wasn’t a cake walk. I found out the hard way that a degree didn’t entitle me to a job. I ended up working at a Starbucks to pay the bills while I searched for something in the field. It was hard. I kind of goofed off in college and didn’t search for a position before I received my bachelors.
That was five years ago, and it took a couple of false starts and lots of trial and error to begin my career. Today, a few of my friends ask questions and look to me for advice on how to get hired. These friends also want to join the IT field. So here’s a little insider advice for anyone trying to score a position in the IT field.
- The Resume
The first thing that any head hunter or recruiter or manager is going to see is your resume. You have a maximum of ten seconds (the average is probably more like… half a second) to grab the attention of whomever is reading the resume. Why? Because hiring managers know what they’re looking for. And if they don’t see it in a cursory glance then they’re not going to look again.
Therefore, the most important thing to top your resume besides your name and the objective is your set of skills. Any technical stuff you know, put it up there. If you can program in whatever language, or are used to whatever IDEs (Integrated Development Environments), or even simple things like the OSes and applications you’re used too, write it down. The chances of a candidate possessing every single skill a recruiter needs is unlikely. But whatever you have is what they don’t have to spend money and time training you on.
After that, you’ll want to add as much professional experience as you can that relates to the job you’re after. If you don’t have much, put academic experiences. Break them down, be specific. Mention the skills you use to do whatever you did. Mention teammates and your roles and everything you can to bolster and prove that you can do the work that will be asked of you.
Also mention amateur pet-projects that you do. If you have a website or work on C# or Python or whatever projects for your own interest, say so. IT managers love to hear that you do this stuff for fun. It proves that you’re motivated to do it and stay technically savvy. Constant self improvement is a mark of a professional. And they know it.
Where do you put your resume up? The two best places I’ve personally found are Dice and Craigslist (just look for your city and the section called ‘Resumes’ toward the bottom). But you’ll also get noticed over at Monster, Careerbuilder and ITJobs. These five are good starts, but try to put your resume out on as many sites as you can, and keep reposting.
- The Interview
If a recruiter bothers to call you, it means they take your resume seriously. It means that the two page advertisement of your employable services (your resume) got a hit. And they want to see if the person who wrote this backs up their claim.
Interviews are rough because they make people nervous exactly when they should try to be the most relaxed and natural. Compared to a hot date, interviews are more nerve racking because your livelihood is dependent on them, where as a bad date you go home alone and a little lighter in the pockets.
Now, I’m not a psychic. I don’t know what most managers are looking for other than the basics. This article on Dice covers it well: hiring mangers want someone who is motivated to do the work and will fit in well with the team. This is true of any position. The IT field however comes with a third factor, whether or not you can do the work. To this end, lots of recruiters absolutely love to throw tests at potential employees. We’ll cover that in a minute.
Besides this test, the most important thing to prove is that you’re a likeable guy (or gal). Managers want to know that the team can get along with you, because the last thing they need to do is hire a prima donna who needs to be coddled and babied through everything. To that end, it’s important to smile and have a little confidence. Don’t expect instant friends, but definitely try to click with people. Listen to them. Nod your head, pay attention.
Fact is, they’d probably rather hire someone with has less skills and more personality than someone who has more skills and is a total jack ass. But if you can bring both, all the better.
- The Test
Personally, I have been tested in so many ways so many times. I’ve come into interviews expecting to shake hands and hit it off. Instead I get hit with a written pop quiz (which is not really fair because in this day and age, I can just Google the answer to a real life problem if I’m stumped on the job). Other times? The hiring manager asks you really technical questions about how you would do this, or that, or whatever. Which is sad because maybe I forgot the terminology but I would be able to do it if the issue was right in front of me.
The worst test I ever faced was when they marched an entire group of programmers into the room to grill me. Not only did I have to answer rough technical questions, I had to do it with about eight pairs of eyes watching the sweat stains expand on my dress shirt. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
It is a crappy state of affairs, but the fact is that companies get burned if they make a bad hire. One of the earliest companies I worked for hired a woman to a position because she seemed a good fit with the team. Then they found out she had absolutely no skills at all with her PC. Three days into the job, they had to let her go. But, the company paid out generously for her unemployment, a month of health insurance and salary for the full two weeks. Lucky her. Unlucky for them.
That being said, always be prepared to be tested. If a recruiter says you’ll get an interview, whether on the phone or face to face, grill them to find out if there will be a test. And then study for it anyway. Find out what skill sets will be required for the position and then read up on them. Memorize the terms, know what the acronyms stand for. Know the basics like the buttons on your TV remote.
And if you get caught flat footed, admit that you don’t know the answer but do know the resources and websites that you can get the answers from, like DaniWeb. Admit that you’re willing to learn anything you don’t know and prove you know what you claim to.
- The Thank You Note
Okay, that’s a strange name for a section. But it’s effective. If you get out of an interview and you think there was a click there, sometimes a tiny bit extra can make all the difference in the world. Sending an email to the hiring manager to thank them for the interview and that it was great to meet them can be the difference between “When can you start?” and “You’re a great fit but…”
So don’t be ungrateful. They’re a human being, treat them like one and you’ll find respect returned.
- The Hiring Game
No matter how good you feel after an interview or what they tell you, always assume you’re not hired until you see that offer letter. This is especially true of contracting positions, because its quite common that a recruiter will
lie to your facetell you what you want to hear right before they fail to land the contract. And most won’t have the common courtesy to call and tell you that it’s not going to happen.
No matter what happens, remember that you’re a little better off than you were before the interview. Because even a failed interview gives you some experience into how this power game is played. Yeah you didn’t land that position, but now you are a little wiser about what to expect and how to react. What I said before about it being a game of trial and error wasn’t a joke. So don’t kick yourself because you got turned down- you’ll get turned down more often than you’ll succeed.
So don’t pat yourself on the back when you’re out of the interview. Get back to work, chasing leads, working on the resume, reading, studying and working on your interview skills. Be a machine. And don’t give up.
So that’s what I got for anyone struggling out there to get a job in this climate. Fact is, don’t give up just because the prospects suck. There is always money to be made out there, always someone in need of someone to do something. And if anyone whines and nay says your efforts, stop talking to them. You don’t need someone dragging you down.
Keep calm and carry on.