Graduation season just ended. It may be you, your daughter, or your nephew who needs the advice, but someone you know is in a dilemma: all the major college recruiting program application cycles started last fall and you still haven't started job hunting. Here is some advice on how to find and land your first tech job.
Finding a Job
Major Job Sites
Monster, CareerBuilder, and Dice are great sites with a lot of companies sure to give you responses, but be very careful what information you give them. You may want to set-up an e-mail account just for job searching, and leave out your phone number; many people who post their phone number along with their resume on these sites will still get phone calls two years after they have already found a new job. Many of the phone calls you will receive in response to your resume will be headhunters. Finding a good headhunter to work with can work out well, but be sure it's a headhunter who has a good reputation with good companies. You want a headhunter who repeatedly places people at the same few quality companies, and the people they place are able to grow their careers within that company.
Personally, I think the current best site for job searching is actually craigslist. On craigslist, you can search for jobs, and only submit your resume to the companies you are interested in; you do not post your resume publicly.
How to Find the Right Jobs on Craigslist
- Go to the craigslist for your city/region.
- Click on the heading "jobs"
- In the search box, try "entry" first. In the dropdown, choose "engineering jobs", "software jobs", "internet engineering jobs", or "systems/networking jobs" depending on which you think you are qualified for. You can try them one at a time if you are interested in more than one of these.
- Browse through the jobs. At this stage in your career, you probably don't want to look for a consultancy. For someone in a technical field, you will learn less at a consultancy as an entry level employee.
- Compose an e-mail to each individual company you are interested in. Give a brief description of yourself, stating where you just graduated from and what degree you have. Attach a resume and contact information. Feel free to use your real e-mail address and phone number here.
- If you don't think you found enough jobs, try using the search term "junior" as well. Often times, junior jobs will ask for 1-2 years of experience, but depending on your internship work during college, you may still be able to get these jobs. Some junior positions may not require experience at all.
How to Interview for Your First Tech Job
I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but most of those projects you did in university don't really count in the work world. You will find that employers are more interested in how smart you are and how quickly you will probably pick up things over what projects you've done in school.
Here are some ways to stand out in your interview:
- If you've done projects on your own time and not for a class, definitely mention them and emphasize that this was something you did for fun.
- Employers understand you are unlikely to know specifically what you're interested in. But show interest and enthusiasm in something technology-related (preferably non-work-specific, since it'll be more genuine). Maybe rocketry is one of your hobbies, or robotic kits, or flying small airplanes, or maybe you're an audiophile, etc.
- Show that you want to learn. Ask about mentorship. Ask if they have a feedback process (i.e. code or design reviews) so you can know how you can improve.
- If you've done any research projects or had any internships during college, mention specific projects from those as well as your role in them.
- If you talk about a team project (either from school or work experience), find ways to make sentences that use the word "I" and not "we". Talk specifically about your role and what you did on the project.
- Emphasize your communication skills, and good feedback loops between you and a team leader or boss or client
- Just relax and talk about yourself, your hobbies, and what you really enjoy. Personally, partway into the interview, I try to get them to go on a tangent with me about one of my hobbies I'm super interested in. If I can get them to follow me on the tangent, I feel like I'm doing well on the interview. It means they don't feel like it's urgent enough to bring me back to their prepared questions, so they probably feel like they know enough about me. Meanwhile, I am showing that I can get really enthusiastic in something and put a lot of effort into it.
In Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, he recommends that you always send a handwritten "thank you" note. This is good advice, though it will probably only help if they're really having trouble deciding and delay the decision; most companies will get all your interviewers together to discuss you immediately after you leave so no one forgets their impressions of you. E-mail thank you notes may be nice, but as far as I've seen, they don't affect the decision. In any case, if you do write a "thank you" note, be sure to spell their name correctly (as well as the company's name!).
How Do You Choose which Job
Choosing a job should not just be who offers you the most money; you want your first job to be somewhere that will teach you a lot so you will have a large set of skills and a good depth of knowledge to either quickly move from junior to mid-level (and get a nice raise as well as respect out of the promotion), or to become more marketable for your next job search. The career development offered by the company as well as the technologies that you will be learning should be high on your consideration list. Also, you may know whether or not you'd rather work at a small, mid-sized, or large company. It is harder to get noticed at a larger company if you want to be really ambitious; putting in an extraordinary amount of effort may not get far enough up the long chain of command for you to get the recognition you deserve. Working at a smaller company though might mean a huge variance in types of tasks, and the greater likelihood of long tasklists leading to guaranteed long hours before deadlines.
One warning for computer science majors: if you feel confident in your ability to write code, you should not take a QA/testing position. At the same level, these jobs tend to pay less than a programming job, and it is very difficult to switch from being a QA/tester to being a software developer, whereas the reverse is common for those who end up deciding they don't like coding. If you can write code but you enjoy testing, don't worry. Just because you have a testing team does not mean that you do not test your own code. It is part of good software practices to write your own unit codes and run them, making sure you think your code is bug-free before sending it to the testing team.
Starting at Your New Job
Congrats! You're starting at your new job. Make sure you ask a ton of questions when you first start; do not sit and struggle trying to understand something. Then, show them that time they spend explaining stuff to you is not wasted. You do this by applying what they told you and making sure you complete the tasks given to you on time, or preferably quicker than expected. After you are finished with a task, make sure you ask for a new task. In fact, when you are nearing the end of a task, warn your boss so that s/he can have some time to make sure to have a new task ready for you when you do complete your task. If you find yourself lagging behind on a task, let your boss know and tell him/her what problems you have been facing. This can be done with a simple e-mail if you want. It is important to update them on the speed of your work before it's becomes a problem, so it's not unexpected when you don't make a deadline or so something can be done about lightening your task or reassigning resources to help you out. Good communication will go a long way in your career.
Good luck on your job search, grads!