14 Tips to Help New College Grads Land a (Good) IT Job

IT recruiters and hiring managers share their advice on how recent college graduates can improve their chances of landing a job in IT.

IT job search and interview tips for graduates

According to a recent Dice hiring survey of nearly 1,200 IT-focused hiring managers and recruiters, demand for technology professionals should continue to be strong through 2012, with "24 percent of corporate hiring managers saying they were hiring at the entry level," according to Tom Silver, senior vice president, Dice. "It's not the levels that we saw pre-recession, but similar to last year."

As for where those jobs are, "It's a diverse set of industries looking for entry-level talent," he notes. Among the hot IT fields: healthcare, financial services, energy, government and mobile technology.

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As for what IT-related skills employers are looking for, according to a recent study by CareerBuilder and CareerRookie assessing the job prospects for the class of 2012, "companies are focusing on finding workers who have current technical skills and business acumen that can increase revenue." The most sought after students: business majors -- followed closely by computer and information science majors and engineers. Also at the head of the class: math and statistics majors and those majoring in communication technologies.

In particular, employers are looking for hires who know understand software development.

One Word: Programming

"MIS students are realizing employers are hiring as many developers and software engineers as they can find and are very open to hiring entry-level talent," explains Fritz Eichelberger, CEO, HotSpaces.net, an IT recruiting and consulting firm based in Tampa, Florida. "MIS students who avoided any development courses, however, are finding a harder time securing an IT job compared to the CS or engineering students" who have taken courses in software development. And even though it's possible to find work if you don't have a development background, "it takes longer and the salaries are not as favorable as the development-focused students," he says.

"Across the board, we're looking for HTML knowledge," says Alana Peden, a marketing assistant at SpareFoot, an Austin-based tech startup that is an online marketplace for consumers to find and reserve self-storage units. "Our developers write code using PHP, JavaScript, MySQL, HTML and CSS." But that doesn't mean you have to have majored in computer science. "One of our developers was a recent grad with a biomedical engineering degree, but he could program."

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Another piece of advice, albeit more for current students than grads: Do an internship in the field or area you are interested in pursuing. "Before a student enters into the workforce he or she should really have some 'real world' experience through a job or internship while still in school," explains David Muir, Jr., founder, The GigSpire Program, which teaches job search skills. Work experience, even if unpaid, he says, can make a big difference.

What else do recent grads need to land their dream job in IT? CIO.com asked hiring managers and IT recruiters. Following are their top tips for how to improve your chances of getting hired.

Google yourself -- before a prospective employer does. Why? "I am looking for two things: you participate on the social or technical Web, and you do not have anything terribly scandalous on the Web," explains Sara Robertson, vice president, Strategic Technology , CPX Interactive, a digital adverting company. "If I find a thread on a developer forum where you are helping a newbie understand the proper way to instantiate a class, you will get a call immediately.

If I find a thread on a developer forum where you are flaming a newbie for not reading the documentation, your resume is immediately in the trash." Robertson also recommends potential hires have a Twitter and/or Facebook account. "If you don't have those I will suspect something is amiss, unless you have a first-page blog where you eloquently describe all the reasons that Facebook and Twitter suck. At which point I might just want to be your best friend."

How to Protect Your Reputation Online

Get a professional email address. "Something as [seemingly insignificant] as your email address can make a huge impact on whether or not you get a response from a hiring manager," argues Shara Senderoff, co-founder and CEO of Intern Sushi. "So ditch the funny, inappropriate email address you've had since high school, like 'sexykitten11' or 'bigdaddy69.'

Make a great impression from the start by setting up a professional, simple email address -- a combination of your first and last name and, if needed, numbers," she says. "If you insist on keeping that old address for old times' sake, keep it solely for personal use with friends."

Adjust your Facebook privacy setting before you send out a single resume. "Hiring managers are now searching Facebook to screen candidates before and after the interview process," notes Senderoff. And the last thing you want them to see is a picture of you doing shots with your buddies, in a thong or behaving inappropriately. Therefore, she recommends you change your Facebook privacy settings to "friends only" and choose a profile picture your grandmother would approve of.

Do your homework/due diligence. "Research and know the company's basic stats (revenue, number of employees, main locations, products and services)," advises Michael McKiernan, vice president, Business Technology at Citrix. "Understanding the company's business strategy and the relevance of the IT function in contributing to this strategy... demonstrates a sincere targeted interest in the company and the IT function as opposed to a blanket 'any job will do' approach."

Optimize your resume and keep it short. "If your resume doesn't fit on one page, I'm not reading it," states Cody Swann, CEO, Gunner Technology. "As an IT hiring manager at ESPN, I got hundreds of resumes. I'm not spending more than a couple minutes on each one." Moreover, "if it's more than one page, especially for new grads, it's mostly fluff."

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Another resume tip: "use basic SEO techniques to help your resume get cataloged properly and found," advises Keren Douek, founder, Viral Workforce. "Make a list of keywords recruiters might enter when searching for a job seeker like you, and make sure your resume includes as many of them as possible. Remember that only plain text will be searchable, so skip images and tables. Keep the most pertinent and compelling information above the fold, so viewers do not need to scroll to access it."

In addition, she advises candidates to be strategic when naming their resume. "Don't save your resume as 'John Doe' or 'My Resume.' When a recruiter is scanning through listings on a job board or in their Applicant Tracking System, the file name of your resume is one of the few bits of information you get in front of them, and if you use it strategically you may lead them to view your resume," she says. "Use the name of your resume as one more tool to sell yourself. Save your resume as 'J2EE Project Manager' or 'Business Analyst with Financial Industry Experience.'"

Network, network, network! "Candidates who are most successful in finding that first opportunity are those who pursue all of the channels available to them, not just campus recruiting," explains Todd Weinman, president of The Weinman Group, a San Francisco-based staffing and recruiting firm, and a member of the Leadership Development Committee at ISACA, a nonprofit professional association of 95,000 IT security, audit and governance professionals in 160 countries. "Savvy graduates leverage their professors, alumni networks and personal contacts to increase the number of potential interviews. They should also consider joining professional associations, such as ISACA, "where individuals share tips and ideas, learn from more seasoned professionals and help one another find opportunities."

And once you've found the right person to network with, don't be bashful. "Ask for introductions, references and insight into the organizations you are targeting," says Ed Nathanson, director of Talent Acquisition, Rapid7, an IT security company. A 'warm' lead is always handled differently and is a great way to get in the door."

Use social media. "The savviest candidates nowadays are the 'connected' candidates," adds Nathanson. And chances are you already have a Facebook account, and possibly a LinkedIn account. If you don't have the latter, get one. "LinkedIn is a great way to introduce yourself and [connect with] the hiring manager," explains Ken Stasiak, CEO of SecureState.

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As for maximizing your social media presence, "when building your professional profile on LinkedIn, solicit recommendations from current and former colleagues, join professional user groups and let your connections know that you're actively seeking employment," says Amy Reid, director of Recruiting at Impact Advisors, a healthcare information technology consulting company.

Don't show up for your interview un- or under-prepared. Per Eichelberger, you can improve your chances of landing the job if you follow these four interview tips:

• Wear appropriate interview attire. Don't know what this is? Ask human resources or the person who arranged the interview.

• Bring copies of your resume (making sure there are no typos).

• Bring a list of open-ended questions (written on a small notepad). Ask about company culture, what is expected in the first 30 to 90 work days, the track record of other hired college grads.

• Show up 15 to 20 minutes early. It is normal to be nervous for an interview but no need to add to it by being late or rushed. (Need to kill some time when you get there? Read up on the latest company news on your smartphone.)

How to Nail the Technical Job Interview

Brush up your conversation skills. "If you get to the interview stage, you better be able to have a conversation," warns Swann. "That's the biggest skill missing in IT. If you can't tell a story or at least communicate clearly and succinctly, you're not getting my vote," or the gig.

Show off your problem-solving skills. "I do all of the hiring for our IT/Engineering divisions for the company, and the best way for an applicant to get a job with me is by showing me how good of a problem solver they are," says Jordan Hudgens, senior software engineer, MCW Services, a software design firm. A good way to do that? Learn what the company does, what issues they may be having (or had or could have) and give practical advice on how you would mitigate or solve the problem if you were given the job.

Play up your experience, even if unpaid. "It's important to complete internships, volunteer or demonstrate [you have worked on IT] projects," even if unpaid, says Silver.

"Being able to discuss real-life experiences in your field is an indication that you have taken the classroom theories and implemented them in a business environment," adds Brian Dean, manager of Audit & Compliance at SecureState. "If this is your first job out of college, it may be challenging. Internships, related summer jobs and even volunteer work in related fields will help you bridge the gap between theory and practical application." His suggestion: volunteer to manage your church's network or help your college upgrade its LAN.

Show your enthusiasm for the job and the company. "We love what we do, that's why we do it," says Simon Lee, CEO, Locassa, an app development agency based in London. Lee loves meeting candidates who are enthusiastic about Locassa. "Enthusiasm is infectious, and I absolutely want that in my office," he states. "If you are going into IT because you love tech, don't be afraid to show it, after all, that's why we're in IT too."

Know what you don't know. "No one knows everything, so don't try to suggest you do," says Dean. "If asked about a topic you aren't familiar with, instead of fabricating fiction, relate it back to something you are familiar with, or provide details on how you would go about becoming better informed," he advises. Just don't try to BS. "If you are willing to BS in an interview, I have to assume you are willing to do the same in front of a client (internal stakeholders and/or external paying customers)," not a good thing in his book.

Be willing to start on the ground floor. "With the job market the way it is, an 'I will do anything' attitude goes a long way," says Stasiak. And if it's the right company, "while the pay may not be [ideal], you have the advantage of learning the basics surrounded by experts, which can result in a massive payoff once you hit your career stride."

"Prepare well, research the company, know the skills needed for the job, and apply for a job you are adequately prepared, knowledgeable and have a passion for!" says Dean.

Have a job tip for recent college grads or undergraduates just starting the job search process? Please share it in the Comments section.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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