The good news for the 2011 cohort of IT graduates is that there’s an official IT shortage and more jobs to choose from. But it’s worth doing your homework to make sure your first job is a launch pad for a happy and successful career in IT.
Horror stories abound about bad first jobs in tech, including working in silent sweatshops and being disciplined over the weekend on MSN. Having invested time and effort in study and work experience, it would be a shame to jeopardise your future career with a poor first choice.
Once confidence is dashed, it can be hard to move on. So it’s important to excercise due diligence. Our graduate recruitment experts offer their tips.
Build on your knowledge
Too many graduates forget how much they already know and grab at the first job offered. A good approach is to use any expertise you have built up during your studies and sell that in to an employer.
If you’ve spent six months writing a dissertation on Google Analytics, think twice before ditching this advantage and accepting a role as a generic software developer. Your expertise might be more highly valued - and relevant - elsewhere.
Interview your employer
Remember that the interview process is a two-way process: it’s an opportunity for you to assess your potential employer and not just their chance to put you through your paces.
You should be entirely comfortable putting any question to the interviewer about your career prospects and the particular role on offer. Prospective employers should invite these questions, too, and be able to offer clear answers to questions asked before, during and after the interview.
Spot the clues
‘Taking the temperature’ of a company’s culture while on site can be difficult and it’s best to do some research upfront. Talk to employees, recruitment agents and check websites to try and find out what a company’s culture and ethos is like. Some IT firms are technology and innovation-driven, for example, while others are hard-nosed and sales-led.
However it is possible to pick up on clues on your interview day. Does the receptionist smile and is he welcoming? Do interviewers and HR department demonstrate understanding and are you introduced to would-be colleagues? Graduates are new to the workplace and good employers will be nurturing.
Check the three-year plan
The first job is important, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Graduates are in state of flux in the two years after graduates and across all industries: two thirds leave their first job within 24 months. Accept you are in a state of flux and don’t put pressure on yourself.
The best way to manage this transient state is to work out a three year plan. Create some basic objectives for yourself and check that your prospective employer has a plan in place for you too. Is there training, support, and possible career progression? It’s justifiable to ask, and if the answer is no, it’s best to steer clear.
Research, research, research
You’ll never have a bigger network to draw on than the day before you graduate. The majority of students fail to utilise a network that can be as big as 100,000 and consist of alumni, tutors and peers.
Research for your first job can’t start too early, however, and the best time is while you are still studying. Large IT software and services companies all attend the milk rounds and these are a great opportunity to find out about opportunities and seek advice about the variety of roles available.
Pick your sector
The one driver in IT recruitment that has changed in the last few years is that employers insist their IT personnel are business savvy and know their sector. ’I am considering all industries’ is not the sort of reply that interviewers want to hear.
However, it does mean you have to know your own mind up front, rather than selling yourself into a sector and regretting it at leisure. Research the culture of different sectors, talk to people who work there and preferably do some work experience to ensure your choice will be a happy one.
Manufacturing is huge because of the weakness of the pound sterling. Choose a company wisely and there could be rapid career progression in this sector. For the first time in a decade, there is proper, solid investment in manufacturing systems, and there are fresh job opportunities.
Working for a manufacturer of agricultural products, for example, with IT offices overlooking the factory floor may not be glamorous. But the plus side is that there’s a tangible product at the end of your IT input, which can be very satisfying.
Keep your options open
If you want to be able to work across a variety of sectors, one strategy is to join a large services company or systems integrator. Multinationals usually look for an open mind in the graduates who join their programmes.
Corporations such as IBM recruit instead for foundation competencies in communication skills, team working passion and drive. In the duration of the two-year programme, graduates get to try out two or three sectors before finding one that floats their boat.
The power of referral
Once you’ve found a sector, type of company or preferred graduate scheme that suits, you need to work your network. It’s amazing who you can reach once you start tapping into personal networks of family, friends and tutors.
Scratch the surface and you’ll be connected to many people, maybe one step removed, with influence over desirable employers and in workplaces.
With thanks to:
Fran Jones, IT recruitment director at tech specialist, ARM
Jenny Taylor, head of UK student and graduate programme, IBM
Neil Hedges, senior manager with recruiter Robert Half Technology
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