The IT job market is getting more crowded by the day. There are plenty of opportunities, that’s for sure. But, how do you land a good opportunity when most of them require applicants with experience? The companies who are ready to accept candidates with zero experience are usually not the most reliable ones.
It’s a tough situation. To get experience, you need a job. To get a job, you need experience.
It’s a paradox, but it’s okay. Everyone else started their career this way. You just need to relax and learn some tricks that will help you get your first job in computer science. A great first job in computer science, that is.
We’ll give you the tips. You’ll do the rest!
1. Networking Is Everything
Who you know matters. Fortunately, in the Information Age, it’s easy to know more people. You just need to get connected… the right way.
In computer science, networking means connecting two or more computers for sharing information in various forms. On the job marketing, networking is a process of meeting relevant people and cultivating relationships with them. Who are those relevant people? Anyone working in the industry of your interest falls in that category.
How do those connections happen?
- One word: LinkedIn! It makes networking easier than ever. Create a killer profile that shows your professionalism and creativity in the best light.
- You’ll use that profile to network. Start by joining LinkedIn groups related to your interests. There are few LinkedIn groups that any IT professional can benefit from:
Don’t limit yourself to general groups aimed at IT. If, for example, you’re great in open-source development and you want a job related to it, search for a group specifically aimed at open-source development.
Once you join the right groups, start getting into discussions. Don’t be afraid to send invitations; that’s what LinkedIn is all about.
- Introduce yourself. Your activity on LinkedIn should involve more than collecting connections. What will you do with them? When you connect with someone, it’s only fair to send an introduction. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be ignored. However, you might also get a personal response and use that connection to get a job.
2. Focus on Your Strength: Education
Your degree counts for something. All those courses you took at college matter. You have no experience on a real job? So what? Focus on promoting your strengths, such as your education and all projects you’ve been part of.
You’ll be surprised to see that many employers want to give a chance to recent graduates. You’ve been hearing this over and over again: in IT, it’s the experience, not the education that matters. That’s true to some extent.
However, knowledge is still vital. It doesn’t matter whether you got it through college or through individual courses. You still have to demonstrate it.
If you don’t have a degree or certificates, it’s time to do something about it.
Why is education important?
- It gives you exposure to theory and a broader set of skills.
- It makes you more professionally mature.
- It demonstrates your commitment to learn as much as possible about the career you want.
- It shows you’re focused on your future.
Don’t be bummed for spending all that time and money on education. It makes a difference.
Mention the degree and all important (and relevant) courses in the resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. As for the certificates, get as many of the ones that matter: Certified Ethical Hacker, CCNA Security, Security+, CISSP, and more.
3. Open Source Can Save You
Your contributions to open source shows your active interest to improve the IT community. You didn’t gain those skills just so you can make loads of money. You did it because you love this work and you want to give your contributions to the world of computer science.
However, you have to stand out from the crowd. Contribute to great open-source projects, such as GitHub, Go or Rubinius. Open source contributions are not mandatory. However, they surely are useful for your growth and your presentation to potential employers.
4. Do Some Work for Free
This is not a job candidate’s favorite way of gaining experience. However, it still gives you the experience you lack. If you’re doing work for free, it has to be for someone great.
No employer will appreciate the things you did for a friend’s substandard website. You have to set some standards; otherwise you’ll devalue yourself.
- If you’re offered a test period at a good IT company, make sure it’s limited to two weeks at most. One week is usually not enough for the employer to see what you’ve got. A month is too much for free work. Two weeks is okay for both sides. Make sure to start with an agreement that if things work out, you’ll start paid work after two weeks.
- Volunteer! There are organizations that help kids to learn how to code. If you get that experience, it will show you care about the future of this industry. You can also offer your services to nonprofits, just for the sake of gaining some experience.
5. Build a Cool Portfolio
If you apply for a job with no experience, the potential employer will consider you only and only if you show a good portfolio. Not having experience as an employee in the IT sector doesn’t mean you don’t have experience working on projects.
You’ve done that throughout your studies. Whenever you were trying to learn something new, you did it through practice. Show that practice!
The portfolio is great because it shows you’ve contributed to different projects, but it also shows your growth as an IT professional. You can even go back and polish up your old projects once you gain new skills.
This will act like your resume and recommendation letter at the same time. You can feature your portfolio on a personal website, but you can also upload it on Behance, Carbonmade, or another portfolio hosting service.
6. Build Your Online Presence
You’re applying for jobs? It doesn’t matter whether you have or don’t have experience… the hiring manager will Google you. What they see at this point will determine your success as a candidate.
These are the things you want them to see:
- Your blog. As an aspiring IT professional, it’s important to show your skills and knowledge through a blog from this specific niche. You know how successful the most popular blogs in this category are. Who wouldn’t want to hire their authors? Every single job candidate in this industry should have a great blog. Period. The sooner you start working on it, the sooner it will get you a job.
- Your personal portfolio. The link to your featured work should show up in Google’s results.
- Relevant social media activity. It’s okay to be present on social media. In fact, when you want to be part of this industry, it’s recommended to build a strong presence there. This doesn’t mean you should start posting selfies every single day. It means you should promote your blog and portfolio, get into productive discussions from your niche, and post useful links that prove you do your research and you get informed on the latest trends.
7. Learn How to Handle the Job Application Process
So you did all this work. It will show you as a candidate with great potential for growth. Now what? You still need to start applying for those jobs.
- Create a great resume. Include links to your blog and portfolio. IT resumes mustn’t be boring.
- The standard format works when you can stand out with exceptional experience. When you’re a beginner, the standard resume format will only make you unappealing. The technical industry is constantly evolving. Your resume has to keep up.
- Rely on your creativity. Make it visual, but not too busy. Show the results you delivered on all projects you participated in.
- Emphasize your skills and certificates.
- Don’t use tech jargon. Make the resume as readable as possible.
- Accompany your resume with a cover letter that shows how inspired you are to get that specific job. Do not send a generic cover letter to all ads. Find out something about the employer and this position. Show how well you’d fit into that team.
- Prepare for the interview! You can’t expect things to go smoothly if you go unprepared. The first impressions are crucial for the success of the hiring process.
- Be ready to talk about your education and the work you’ve done so far. The hiring manager may ask something about the projects featured in your portfolio.
- Learn how to introduce yourself. That’s usually the first requirement of an interviewer – Can you please introduce yourself?
- Do your research. Find out as much as possible about this company. Find out what projects they are working on. The employer will want to see how you can make specific contributions to their work.
- Relax! Breathe! Everything will be fine as long as you manage to stay calm. Interviews are highly stressful, so you need to learn how to cope with the anxiety. Have a healthy breakfast that morning. Leave early to get there around 10 minutes before the scheduled time. Learn some breathing techniques; they will help you control the stress.
Stay Persistent. You’ll Get a Job!
If you do everything right, the job opportunity will come. Great workers get their recognition in the IT sector. In this industry, the skills and intellect matter. When you show them through your portfolio, resume, and online activity, you’ll get a chance for an interview. If you go through that step successfully, you’ll get your first job.
It’s a challenge, but there’s a great level of excitement in it. Show those employers what you’ve got!