Five Tips to Succeed in IT After Leaving University

There was a time when having an IT qualification, let alone a degree, would guarantee job offers, fame and riches.  unfortunately the ubiquitous nature of IT, along with more accessible education has made the job market far more competitive.  You can’t walk out of university straight into your dream job anymore.  So what can you do to give yourself that crucial advantage when looking for that dream job?  Something that is especially difficult when leaving university and looking for that first opportunity. Here’s 5 tips I’ve picked up since leaving university for the big bad world of IT.

Graduation, Moving on up

Research the location

This is something that I didn’t quite get when first started applying for jobs.  Even in a discipline as diverse as IT, there are still hot-beds of certain types of jobs.  Similar companies tend to group together.  Try and consider this when you’re looking for a job, and make sure you research the location of the job before you apply.  Is it close enough to comfortably commute (also, remember to work out the cost of your commute, estimate high as prices relating to travel can shoot up)?  Are there enough facilities in the area to keep you happy (pub, gym, cafe etc.)?  By doing all this research up front you can really narrow down your search, meaning you can focus on the jobs that are actually viable, and discount the rest.

Graduate Course or not?

Strolling around your campus you will no doubt be inundated with advertisements for Graduate Schemes for various companies doing various things.  You need to think carefully before applying for one of these schemes.  I know quite a few people who went down this route, and there are benefits and drawbacks to them, which I’ve outlined below: –

Benefits

  • A well defined career and development path
  • Meet the right people early on in your career
  • Gain lots of experience in a short space of time
  • Fast track to management
  • Well defined pay scales

Drawbacks

  • Being tied to one company for a set period of time
  • The possibility that you can be moved to a different location at the drop of a hat
  • The possibility that you can move business functions at the drop of a hat, potentially resulting in you doing a job you didn’t sign up for an hate
  • Not gaining the respect of other staff members who feel you are receiving favourable treatment over them
  • Reduced pay (at least initially, when I was looking the difference was something like 20%)

These are all things you need to consider.  It’s really worth pointing out that if you end up getting a “normal” job, as opposed to one in a Graduate scheme, you will still receive training and career progression.  The decision as to whether to go for a Graduate scheme or not really boils down to two things.  Firstly, are the opportunities in the location you’re interested in good?  Secondly, are you the sort of person who wants the structure (and inherent restrictions and advantages) that a Graduate scheme provides?

Get “On Side” with recruitment agencies

If this is your first experience of applying for a job in IT, something may come as a shock to you.  Very very few companies deal directly with job applications.  Every company I’ve ever worked with has outsourced this to a recruitment agency.  This means that, at some point, you will have to deal with a recruitment agency.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and you can use it to your advantage.  The thing to remember here is that the recruitment agent gets paid when you get placed in a job.  Further more, they will usually get a percentage of your initial salary.  So, when you’re job hunting contact all the relevant and local recruitment agents and get their advice.  What sort of jobs are there in the area?  What sort of pay should you be looking at?  Is your CV suitable?  Any interview tips? etc. etc.  Buyer beware though.  In almost all cases I’ve had recruitment agents overstate the amount of work available as well as the potential pay.  So YMMV.

Bring experience to the table, by hook or by crook

If you have any experience, any experience at all that is relevant to the job you are applying for, you will have a head start on all the other graduate applicants.  Te best way to get relevant experience is to do a placement year whilst in university or some temp work should you have the time.  If this isn’t possible, you may have to get creative.  One example I gave in a job interview (actually, I used it twice and got both jobs) was that of a car crash.  In both interview I was asked how I dealt with stress in a work environment.  I didn’t really have any relevant work experience and I desperately wanted to avoid using the boilerplate “assignment deadline” answer all the other graduates give.  So I recalled a traffic accident I was involved in, which became a stressful situation after one of the passenger started to become hysterical.  Talking the interviewers through the steps I took to calm the situation, and take control until help arrived really elevated me above the other candidates. So if you don’t have experience, don’t make something up, just get creative.  And if you get this right, an interview can really swing in your favour.

Pick the right job!

I’ve left what I feel is the most important until last.  I mentioned above that IT is a very diverse market, so try as much as you can to specialise.  While many will say you need to be as flexible as possible, and this is true, it can also be highly advantages to pick a speciality.  By choosing a speciality you can do two things.  Firstly, target your CV and covering letter to that area so it best highlights your skills, talents, experience and achievements that are most relevant to that discipline.  Secondly, you can research the area to ensure you are well prepared for the interview.

Picking an area to specialise in can be difficult.  You not only have to consider what you enjoy and are good at, but also what is “workable”.  By workable I mean a job that you will be able to do in your chosen location and a job that will pay well enough to keep you satisfied.  There are a few tactics you can use when trying to specialise.  Firstly, as far as it’s possible, try and make yourself un-out-sourceable.  Choose a job that can’t easily be outsourced.  This, generally, means going towards either the soft-skills side of things, the local jobs (on-site support for example) or those jobs that are heavily involved at the beginning of the development process.  If your university course is anything like mine, you will find that these jobs aren’t really spoken about.

During my course the developers were talked about, as were testers, project managers, planners, engineers, hardware engineers, support technicians and network engineers.  The job I’m currently doing, Business/Systems Analysis, was barely mentioned at all.  Because I do this job, as opposed to one of the other roles that do get attention, means I have higher job security, better prospects, more interesting work and better pay than my peers who went for the more mainstream, headline jobs.  One of the best ways to research the types of jobs you can go for is to talk it through with your resident recruitment agent.  You can also do a search across job websites for some skills you possess, and see what roles come up.  For example, searching for the skill UML will return lots of development jobs but also jobs as an Analyst.

I hope these five tips have given you something to think about.  I’m far from being a millionaire IT tycoon, but would consider myself successful enough to offer advice.  If you want some practical tips on ow to write a good CV, or how to prepare for an interview, try out sites like LifeHacker.com, which regularly posts tips on practical aspects of job hunting.

Photograph by  [K].