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.

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8. Participate in local industry events, like hackathons and coding competitions. "We search for talent at tech-related events and competitions like hackathons," says Dorie Blesoff, chief people officer, kCura, which develops Web-based e-discovery applications. "It's a chance for students to demonstrate their skills while networking with peers and potential employers. Recently we hosted the National Day of Civic Hacking at our office, which aimed to solve local organizations' challenges with technology," she says.

"There are also great organizations like the Illinois Technology Association, which convenes Midwestern college students each year for a programming skills tournament, giving students an opportunity to engage with great tech companies," Blesoff says.

"For engineers, participation in coding competitions is also a good way to make your programming skills stand out," says Mike Jennings, senior director of IT at LinkedIn. "Highlight them on your LinkedIn profile [blog, or website] with clear and concise descriptions. Consider competing on sites such as TopCoder."

9. Tailor your resume to each position -- and avoid jargon and simply listing keywords. "Develop a resume that reflects the IT professional you want to be by detailing every project you've completed or been a part of, regardless of its size or scope (even that college coursework demonstrates your skills)," says Jennifer Doran, consultant program manager TEKsystems, an IT staffing firm.

"When writing your resume, make sure the content is detail- oriented and focuses on the skills you've applied, technologies you've worked and, especially important, the results you've generated," Doran says. "Too often I see resumes with a skills summary section that's simply keywords with no details about those skills within the candidate's job descriptions."

10. Don't just apply to the cool startup in Silicon Valley. "Don't be afraid to make your search wide-ranging, not only geographically but in the kinds of things you might like to work on," says Stephen Pimentel, technologist evangelist at database software startup FoundationDB, a data storage technology provider. "Look for companies solving difficult, interesting problems."

"Job seekers in IT fields should look beyond the technology industry as sources of employment," adds Sigelman. "Over half of all job postings for IT roles are outside of the IT sector, in areas such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance and retail."

11. Know your interviewer. "Prior to an interview, ask with whom you will be meeting and use LinkedIn and the Web to learn as much as you can about them," says Doran. "This shows initiative and provides an opportunity to identify similarities you might share with your interviewer (e.g., attended the same college or played the same sport).

The most positive feedback from hiring managers comes when a candidate is able to make a personal connection," Doran says. "Also, take note of the professional paths of the IT managers with whom you interview. Asking how they got to where they are today is an excellent icebreaker and shows career initiative."

12. Finally, be realistic about salary. "Be realistic and don't expect that you are going to get $100K+ because that's what you saw that job position pays at the high range," says Brad Roth, IT manager, EZSolutionIT, which provides computer and IT services. "That high range is meant for people that have years of experience in the field."

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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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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