Starting Your Career in Tech: a Job Search Guide for Recent Grads
One of the best aspects of my career as a recruiter is that I get to meet and interview the most fascinating people. My primary function with Skookum is sourcing candidates for development/software engineering, UI/UX, product strategy and QA, and the candidates we meet run the gamut as far as skills and experience go.
What we’re looking for at any given time largely depends on the project, but there can be openings for people right out of college. Skookum is looking for people who choose to be happy to come to work each day; for those who are team players and passionate about the work they’re doing. Finding a good culture-fit is critical to us and should be to you as you’re launching your career, as well.
Whether you’re a traditional or non-traditional college grad, a Millennial or an older candidate changing careers, or the graduate of a coding or design boot camp, your job prospects in tech are vast and varied. Your search might seem overwhelming, at first. Here are a few tips to get you started on the right path—the one you’ll find most rewarding as you build your career in tech.
1. Evaluate your goals with these key questions:
Write it down. Work through your responses. Think carefully about what it is you want out of this great adventure you’re on—you are the designer of these next steps.
What is my ideal job? What do I actually want to do?
This is probably the most important question, and it’s okay for the answer to this question to change over time. That’s how you find your forever-home within a career, doing something you’re excited and passionate about. For now, you need to start with an understanding of what it is you are going to find fulfilling and worthwhile. Only then can you begin your search for open positions, along with companies who hire for similar roles.
What companies do I admire? Whose work do I follow?
Are there folks working with the companies you admire who you can connect with through LinkedIn, tech meetups, etc? Ask for an informational interview with HR, or a hiring manager you’ve connected with. Even if there isn’t an opening that’s suitable for your skill set, you’re putting yourself in front of someone.
Does the company host events that you can attend? Go to those. Network, meet people. You have no idea how powerful a connection can be, and all you have to do is show up and make yourself visible and eager to learn.
How can I connect with my community to build visibility?
Is there a startup company who could use your skills? Maybe they need help designing their new website, and you’d kick butt at that. Do it. You’re building your portfolio and resume. And again, you’re networking and connecting with people who are working in the tech industry. Can you volunteer at a tech conference? Do that. Can you help organize a new or already established meetup in the area? Do that, too!
2. Create an online space where recruiters and hiring managers can visit.
It can be very helpful and powerful to show your work, especially if your work is customer-facing.
If you’re a UX/UI Designer, put together a portfolio of projects you’ve contributed to. Only have course projects from school? That’s ok! You have to start somewhere, right? Your friend had an idea for a mobile application, and you helped write the code. That’s awesome! Highlight that.
Having a landing page you can include on your resume and within job applications shows that you took the extra time to organize and show your work. It also gives companies an idea of your taste and style. That can be helpful in determining whether you’d be a good fit for that upcoming project they’re trying to staff.
3. Find jobs that are the right fit for your current skill set, but don’t stop there.
It is important that you pay attention to what companies say they’re looking for in terms of experience. If the job ad clearly states that a developer with 10+ years of experience is needed, you are setting yourself up for disappointment by applying.
There are far better ways to spend your time…
Any job that is open to candidates with less than five years experience is worth applying. They won’t call if you don’t apply, and they may decide it’s something they can work with. Depending on who else is on the project, the company may just decide that someone with the right values but less experience could be a fit.
Be realistic about your skills and abilities, but don’t get discouraged. Reach out and let people know if you are interested in learning more about their company. Even if there isn’t an available position to matches your background or skills at the moment, ask for an informational interview. I’ve met some great candidates who reached out in this way, just to learn more about Skookum and to let us know they would be interested in future opportunities.
Get creative and proactive in your job search.
We post our job openings to our website, Indeed, Glassdoor, BuiltInColorado.com, and in the Charlotte Agenda, among other sources. You should keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and use the features available to you there—link to your landing page, upload media to showcase your work, etc. Whether you applied through LinkedIn or not, it’s a common place for recruiters to seek candidates out to learn more about you.
But don’t stop there. Go to meetups in your community. Join local Slack channels that might be relevant to your search; in our area, we have the CharlotteDevs meetup and the Slack channel that they provide for ongoing networking. Go to tech-related conferences and pay special attention to the sponsor fairs.
Being proactive and creative means looking outside of the job boards to find your tribe.
When you’re starting off, you’re likely applying to several job openings. And you should be, but be smart about it. Start an Excel document where you can keep track of when you applied, who you applied with (the company) and what role you applied to. There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting on a call with a recruiter and asking, “I’m sorry, what role is this for again?”
4. You got an interview! Yay! Now what?
Maybe it’s not your dream job, or maybe the company isn’t who you ultimately want to work for. That’s ok. As you’re starting your new career, we want you to gather all of the experience and information you can. You’re an information sponge at this point, and that’s how we learn and grow. It’s how we discover deficiencies and areas where we need to continue to invest.
Do your homework.
You don’t need to spend hours studying a company like you’re cramming for that final biology exam; But, you should have a general idea of who the company is, what they do, and have a solid understanding of the role you’re interviewing for.
You should always have at least two or three questions prepared for the end of your interview. Maybe the recruiter did a great job and answered all of your questions naturally during the conversation. Even so, have a couple of back-up questions that you can refer to if needed.
Even if this isn’t your dream job or dream company, your level of excitement is easily read over the phone, and more so in person. Hiring teams want to hire people who are excited to work with them.
Send a ‘thank you.’
Did you wrap up a phone interview? Send a ‘thank you’ email later that day. Did you interview onsite, in person? Send a handwritten note to everyone you sat with. Sound old school? Maybe. But we want you to stand out against the rest, right? So take three minutes and write a thank you note. Drop it in the mail the next day. It goes a long way and leaves an impression. Everyone likes receiving happy mail.
5. Stay positive and use all feedback to your advantage.
Landing your first gig in tech is going to be the biggest step in starting your career, but landing the job isn’t the only positive outcome from interviewing. At times, it may be frustrating when you don’t land that internship you were excited about or didn’t get an interview with your dream company off-the-bat. That’s okay!
Maybe a company had you complete a coding test, and you discovered you weren’t as proficient as you thought you were in a certain coding language. Might you be disappointed? Sure. But how powerful is that information now? You’re more aware of an area where you need to focus and strengthen your skills. Next time, you’ll be more confident and more likely to crush that test.
Stay open to the possibilities!
You’re going to move around this industry quite a bit when you’re starting off, but that’s how you learn and that’s how you grow. Maybe you’re hired into your dream role, and later realize it’s not where your passion is. Maybe that startup company you weren’t terribly excited about ends up being the best employer you’ve ever had! There are so many routes available to you, so be sure not to close yourself off to any of them.