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12 tips to help college grads land their first IT job

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff | June 24, 2014
Technology and HR pros, as well as IT recruiters, share their advice on how recent graduates and those still in college can best position themselves for a technology career.

"Have they been featured recently in the press? Are they active on TechCrunch?" Find out, Rutt says. Then, in your cover letter or during the interview, "highlight some of the exciting things the company is doing and why you would want to be engaged in that work and how you could add to the project with your skills."

"Inspire confidence by walking into the interview with a deep understanding of what the company sells," says Mindy Lieberman, vice president of IT at Zendesk, a provider of customer service software. "If it's an SaaS company, play with a free trial, if there is one. Also, "check out reviews [in tech publications], or find a friend who is a customer. [Skimming the company] website isn't enough; go deeper."

"To show that you're well-versed on the company and its offerings, come up with one great suggestion for how they can improve or a new feature you would add," adds Tarek Pertew, cofounder, Wakefield Media, which provides a content platform and produces Uncubed, a startup hiring event. "It shows you care about the company and have put a lot of thought into it. Also, always send a follow-up email, but try to add value and personalize it rather than just to check in."

3. Know or learn the right technical skills."Make sure you are concentrating on current and marketable skills," suggests Esther Shih, head of U.S. HR and Operations at Mirantis, a pure play OpenStack company. "Commonly sought skills include programming in Python, PhP, C, Java, JavaScript, Ruby and Perl. Understanding databases based on both SQL (such as MySQL, Oracle and DB2) and NoSQL (such as MongoDB, Cassandra [and] Couchbase) is also key. Skills that set you apart might include understanding Linux internals, or working in a data center to gain hands-on networking and storage experience."

"The job market, especially in IT, is becoming increasingly specialized," says Matt Sigelman, CEO, Burning Glass. "Students who can match their portfolio of skills specifically with what employers are looking for will have an easier time gaining employment," he says. "Based on analytics from Burning Glass, big data skills such as Hadoop and data management, scripting languages such as Python and Perl, and skills that bridge software development with other fields such as graphical user design are among those skills employers find hardest to recruit for."

4. Hone your "soft" skills. "[Soft skills] are nontechnical, interpersonal skills, like effective communication, strong teamwork, leadership, problem solving and negotiation skills," explains Abhijit Pansare, head of recruitment at Collabera, an IT staffing and services company. "Even if you have proficiencies in a hard- to-find technical skill like Java, those skills alone won't land you a job in IT. It's these soft skills that will make you more employable and well- rounded to a potential boss," he says. "Identify the skills where you may not be strongest and invest in improving them. The best way to do this is with practice. Network as much as possible and take as many interviewing opportunities as you can."


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