12 Tips to Help College Grads Land Their First IT Job

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.

According to research conducted by labor market analytics and consulting firm Burning Glass , the future is looking bright, or brighter, for college students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) -- especially if they are looking to go into healthcare, IT or engineering & advanced manufacturing. Indeed, according to Burning Glass's findings, STEM graduates have access to twice as many entry-level jobs as non-STEM graduates -- and the pay is better too, $66,123 compared to $52,299.

[ Best College Tech Majors for Landing a Top Starting Salary ]

But just because you have a four-year degree in math or science or engineering does not mean you will get your dream job in IT, or any job in IT, or even a job interview.

IT careers, IT jobs, graduates, IT job search, college grads

So what can recent college graduates and students still in college do to boost their chances of getting their dream entry-level job in technology (be it at a software company, in healthcare or manufacturing/engineering)? Dozens of IT professionals, HR managers and recruiters offer their top 12 tips for how to increase the odds of landing your dream entry-level technology job.

1. Know what you are good at -- and if you want to be a specialist or a generalist, a technologist/coder or in product management or marketing. "Choose early on if you want to specialize in a certain segment, or if you want to be a generalist," says Evaldo Horn de Oliveira, director of Business Management, FairCom, a provider of database technology.

"If you are interested in management, then consider going the generalist route, since having diversified skills can help you land an entry-level position that will eventually lead you down the management track. It's also important to express your interest in management within an interview, which can alert the hiring manager that you are ambitious and have the drive to pursue opportunities for advancement," he says.

"Some technologists enjoy writing code. Others enjoy managing data centers. But there are also a host of roles like product manager, product marketing and even sales engineering that require passion and understanding of the technology but may play to additional nontechnical capabilities like communication skills and leadership," says Lilac Schoenbeck, vice president of product management and marketing, iland, an enterprise cloud infrastructure provider.

So before you start applying for jobs, she (and others) advise that you learn about the different options and career paths available and apply for positions best suited to your interests and talents.

2. Learn everything you can about the company and position you are applying/interviewing for, before you apply or interview there. "Familiarize yourself with the company," says Jennifer Rutt, senior director of Engagement, AfterCollege, a career network for college students and recent graduates.

"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."

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