Get That Job

How do you get that job in IT? You’ve got the degree, but everyone seems to think “entry level” applicants were born with 3 years experience. Most graduates (at least in the IT sector) seem to manage to land a first job somewhere between the 3rd and 4th levels of hell. How can you avoid it? Well, you can’t. At least not entirely. The thing is most companies don’t trust fresh graduates. Would you? They’re a motley crew of people more interested in machines than people. They have no skills, and they’re full of all these new ideas about how thing should work rather than how they actually work. Jeez, they might actually start getting ideas on how to change things and make things better!

As the employer, graduates are an attrractive proposition. They usually have large debt payments falling due, little resources, and are often desperate for any job whatsoever. They can be employed for very little comparative to their potential and are also less likely to have families so are more mobile.

The flip side is that there’s no way of telling what they know. If you’re a fresh graduate, your stint as a burger flipper or beer bong testerĀ  doesn’t really do justice to your mad coding skills. So how do you convince any future employers you’re worth your salt? The single most important thing is experience. So how do you make experience out of thin air? Remember, this is IT. The entire industry revolves around creating things from thin air (AKA programming).
Code something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking (otherwise you wouldn’t be looking for a job…). It just has to work. Pick something simple. And have a lazer focus. Don’t give in to feature creep. After all it’s not a commercial product, merely something you can show off. For example you can have a simple “Customer Management” application. All it needs i a little database for customers, and a UI for the user to add and remove them. It’s simple, it can use whatever database you’d like to feature in your skills list, it can feature whatever language you want to feature in your skills list. Now all you need is a simple website, stick it up for free download, and hey presto you’ve got your first app in the wild.

What use is this? Firstly, the employer doesn’t know the complexity of it or how you built it (don’t say you coded it drunk waiting for the next keg to arrive). You can use this as a starting point for any technical questions and relate them back to your project. For example if you’re asked about database performance, you can reply by saying that during stress testing of your app you found that by doing some deep juju optimization on your queries you found an improvement of X amount. Obviously at this point, it would be good to know what you’re actually talking about, otherwise you might as well just fake the entire thing.

The idea is that having a piece of software “out there” allows you to put your name to it and declare you have experience. A lot of grads can’t do that.

At this point, I have to mention open source. There’s a hell of a lot of projects on sourceforge and other sites begging for contributors. It’s worth contriobuting to these, especially if they have ones in a niche you’re interested in. The downside is that it is a huge learning curve to just jump into a project and you just can;t start committing immediately. There’s also the politics – some projects are very tightly held. The upside is you could possibly put some well known open source names on your CV (even though you only submitted a simple bug fix). The downside is that the person hiring you may have a bad opinion of open source – it’s hippy-ish, it’s bad, you’re just going to open source my product etc. So it’s a bit of a double edged sword. There’s many niches however which heavily use open source libraries or software. If you know you’ll be applying to those, it’s well worth getting involved in one of those projects.

Right, now you’ve got your piece of software (AKA experience) on your CV, and you’re well versed in the technology area you want to work in (believe me, if you do a small project by yourself, you will be), what next?

Well the usual. I’ll just skim over them here in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last forever.

Pepper your CV with keywords. That little app you wrote? put the language, put the database name, put SQL in there, put the OS, put the libraries it uses. Most likely, around 3-4.5 sseconds after you send your CV out, it will find itself in some sort of database. You’re an IT guy… SEO your CV.

Try and use PDF. If possible use LATEX for writing your CV and make a PDF out of it. It looks far far better than a Word document. But be very careful. ALWAYS check what format they specify.

Buy a suit. A good fitting suit.

Have a shit, shower and shave before you leave the house.

Don’t hit on the secretary when you get there.