8 tips for landing your first IT job

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With tech jobs in such high demand, it's a fantastic time to have a career in technology. If you need proof, consider this: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth trend from 2012 to 2022 is rosy across all categories of computer-related jobs, averaging 18 percent (that's significantly higher than other industries). Oh, and you can also make a pretty penny in technology. Across all technology jobs, the average salary in 2012 (the last official statistics available), was $79,000.

But before you start sending your resume to every tech company out there, you'll need to have a firm handle on a few things. For one, you need to know that landing your first IT job isn't all about grades or technology. While these things are obviously important, landing your dream job takes more than straight A's. The goal of school should be to make yourself employable, so let's take a look at exactly what that means. Here are eight things that will help you successfully transition from the classroom to the workplace.


1. Grades

I mentioned above that getting good grades doesn't equate to getting the job you want. That's not to say grades aren't important, because most employers will have a minimum threshold for grades, but they'll be looking for a lot more. Think of grades as just a baseline.

2. Technical Skills

Getting your first IT job isn't all about technology. That might seem strange to technical job seekers, but hear me out. Technology changes constantly. You might be an expert today in a technology, but five years from now, that technology will likely be obsolete, or evolved to the point that it's unrecognizable. So don't hang your hat on one particular technology thinking it will be your golden ticket into the workplace.

Employers want broad technical experience, not just textbook skills. Here are some ways you can get that experience and exposure, even if you're still in school:

  • Open source projects
  • Internships
  • Freelance gigs
  • User groups
  • Senior or cumulative projects
  • Blogging

3. Ability to Learn

Because technology changes so quickly, it's absolutely critical that you learn how to learn. I'm not talking about all-night cram sessions or memorization techniques. You really need to be able to understand concepts and principles, to generalize them to different settings, and to keep up with changes in technologies and industries. Sometimes, you also need to learn how to unlearn things. As technology evolves, you'll need to discard old practices and habits so that you can successfully move forward as well.

4. Problem Solve

Employers hire people to solve problems, especially computer people. This will be a significant part of your job, and I can guarantee you there won't be a step-by-step guide or textbook to help you solve all the problems that get thrown at you. So, you need to be able to analyze and solve things that come your way.

5. Soft Skills

Entire books and courses have been written about soft skills. It encompasses many things, and you may hear it referred to as people skills or communication skills. But in short, having good soft skills means being able to get along and work effectively with others.

Here are some ways you can boost these skills:

  • Communications classes
  • Toastmasters (toastmasters.org)
  • Study groups
  • Leadership roles in school/community
  • Team-based school projects
  • Community volunteer work
  • Open source projects

6. Networking

Being able to effectively network with others is key to getting your first job (and all subsequent jobs in your career). This is because 80 percent of jobs aren't advertised, meaning they're part of the hidden job market. The only way you get these jobs is by knowing the right people. Yes, it is all about who you know. So network with fellow students, professors, friends, friends of friends, friends of family and any industry connections you have. This will give you an edge when it comes time to start your job search.

7. Stick-to-it-iveness

Yes, it's a bit of a made-up word, but it basically means finish what you start.  One reason employers like to see that you have a degree or certificate is because it shows you can stick to something, even when the going gets tough. They want those qualities in their employees. Think about this as you're planning your studies, internships and side projects that will eventually find their way onto your resume.

8. Passion

It's hard to say how passion for technology starts or how it grows, but when you've got it, you know you've got it! And employers will know as well. Or if you're an entrepreneur, your customers will know. Pick an area of technology that you're really passionate about, because it will make you a better student, a better job candidate and a better employee or business owner.

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Amber Israelsen

is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer with 13+ years' experience working with and teaching Microsoft technologies. She also focuses on professional skills, bridging the gap between techies and non-techies. For her work as a training leader, Amber received Training magazine's 2013 Emerging Training Leader award.