Starting your career in any field can be daunting. There’s more advice than anyone could ever read about how to impress in an interview, how to nail your resume and how to be the applicant someone can’t refuse to hire.
General career advice is great. But in a niche industry like information technology (IT), it’s helpful to have some precise advice upon entering the field. Besides, you don’t want to be just another applicant; you want to be the coveted candidate companies would kill for!
Who better to learn from than seasoned tech experts? We connected with them to collect their best IT career advice for the next generation of tech pros. These tips can help put you on the IT hiring managers’ radars.
8 great pieces of IT career advice for newbies
1. Get your hands dirty
It’s a classic Catch-22 situation, but the best way to get a job is to have some job experience under your belt. Even if you are gunning for an entry-level position after college, having some experience to feature on your resume is vital.
The recent IT graduates that stand out to employers are those who have tangible technology field experience, according to Dr. Steven Lindner, executive partner at The WorkPlace Group. Any real-world experience – internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work or even open-source contributions – indicates you’re invested in the field and your professional development.
2. Seek certification
“Get your basic CompTIA and Basic Microsoft IT Certification,” urges J. Colin Petersen, president and CEO of J - I.T. Outsource. He believe IT certifications as a completely necessary step for rookies in the field. It’s a universally accepted way to demonstrate your proficiency as a candidate.
Each facet of the IT field aligns with a few entry-level certifications, explains Curtis Peattie, client systems administrator at University of Advancing Technology. You’ll have to invest some time and money in the process, but it can pay dividends in the long run. “They can put you ahead of the pack and be a difference-maker in the interview process,” Peattie says.
3. Demonstrate your ability
“While stellar certifications are wonderful, nothing can replace the ability to demonstrate the work you can actually produce,” says Anjuan Simmons, project manager at Assemble Systems. Having projects to show potential employers will demonstrate your ability as well as your motivation and readiness.
Simmons recommends contributing to open source projects or using platforms like GitHub to publicly display your technology aptitude. Having a working project to showcase in an interview is something most entry-level applicants don’t have, according to Ninh Tran, co-founder and chief marketing officer at HireTeamMate.
4. Create a killer website (and provide the URL)
“Make a website. And make it look good,” recommends Ezra Match, front-end and DNN developer at Insureon. “When I’m staring at a stack of resumes, a URL looks beautiful beside the applicant’s contact information.”
Match believes a solid website communicates much more than words. It can showcase technical proficiency and include links to other projects. He also enjoys getting a taste of the candidate’s personality. Simmons adds that a personal bio on your website is also an excellent opportunity to elaborate a bit more than you can on a resume.
5. Start a blog
This might be the last piece of advice you thought you’d hear, but blog posts can throw a rosy light on your candidacy for a job. Simmons advises aspiring IT pros to blog about your specific interests in the industry. This provides a platform for displaying thought leadership in your field and can help you connect with others in the industry.
“Pick one area of expertise and blog a lot about it,” Simmons suggests. “I would rather see a series of blog posts about optimizing SQL database servers than a lot of posts about a variety of topics.” This will help hiring managers see how your interests and specialties match up with their organization.
6. Concentrate on customer service
“It’s easy to overlook how important social skills are in IT,” Peattie says, noting the stereotypes reinforcing the idea that IT doesn’t require social ability. But this is far from true. Being a people person can go a long way on the job, as even the more isolated positions will still require you to communicate professionally.
“Customer service experience is a plus as this is what IT essentially is,” Peattie explains. “Be glad the people you are helping don’t know how to do your job—or else you wouldn’t have one!”
7. Focus on the fundamentals
“As a hiring manager, I recommend that students learn the fundamentals of computer science,” Tran says. Picking and choosing expertise areas and scattered specializations can be helpful to develop ability, but without a comprehensive knowledge of the field, you will be limited.
“At work you won’t come across the same problem sets as you will in school, but the thinking process on how to resolve a logic obstacle will set you apart from a mediocre developer,” he adds. You can teach yourself trendy techniques and cutting-edge codes, but employers will know if you don’t have a solid foundation of the basics.
8. Show your personality
After all of the applications and interviews, hiring managers want to be excited about you as a person, not just a package of skills and projects. Tran says most hiring managers (himself included) are essentially seeking individuals who will fit the company culture. This can’t necessarily be detected on a piece of paper.
“They ultimately want to know the real you (which can be scary), so be brave,” he says. He also stresses the importance of being authentic. You want to work somewhere you will enjoy and grow as a person and a professional, so it’s important to be true to yourself throughout the interview process.
Are you ready to make waves in your IT career?
Our panel of tech pros have spilled their top secrets. Use this IT career advice to start paving your path in the technology industry.
Once you get a foot in the door to start gaining experience and making connections, there’s no telling where you might end up in this multi-faceted career field. Learn more about future advancement opportunities in our article: Top IT Job Titles for Every Stage of Your Tech Career.