When Cathy Lee started working at New York startup Faith Street last year, she quickly learned a lesson that could benefit other recent college graduates who want to advance their IT careers -- soft skills like being flexible, taking on new tasks and asking questions matter a lot.
She originally handled office administrator tasks like answering phones and scheduling meetings and soon added marketing and front-end development to her duties. The New York University graduate even researched CRM (customer relationship management) software for the company, whose website and mobile application help people find churches and faith communities.
"I didn't really have a job title at the time," said Lee, who graduated in 2013 and double majored in marketing and information systems. "I was open and willing to try out new things. Whatever the need was at the time I just jumped on board and helped out."
Her interest in user interfaces and user experience helped her get the job of FaithStreet's "user happiness designer," which involves front-end development and product and account management
"I was able to figure out what I could do that was needed by the company but also something that I enjoyed," Lee said. "I'm involved [with] everything from figuring out user needs, evaluating different prototypes to testing quality assurance of the final product or our latest iteration of the product."
The company wouldn't have initially hired her as a designer "but after six months of being available to do different kinds of work, we found she has a real knack for it," said CEO Sean Coughlin. "Folks who are new out of college have ideas about what they're going to do that are too fixed. The first 100 days or even year at your first job you're going to learn a ton about what you are good at."
Transitioning from student to IT professional entails honing in on a specific technology as you're exposing to more IT, said Jay Yeh, who works at NetSuite as a senior software quality assurance engineer.
"In school you're kind of trying to understand a little bit about everything but you really lack a deep understanding of a particular area," said Yeh, who graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2012. "When you enter the workforce, you focus on a particular area. Adjust your IT interests based on what you've learned."
New hires who grew up with technology may be asked to use their digital native skills in a business context. This was the case at FaithStreet where Lee was responsible for selecting CRM software. Lee had previous experience at that. As an intern at a startup she had looked into CRM software for the company. She picked the same system for FaithStreet, which builds Web and mobile platforms that help people find churches and faith communities
"One thing that's great about hiring people who are in their 20s who just graduated is that they know a lot about technology and they're really quick learners," said Coughlin. "They've been building personal websites or on social media or using different applications for their entire lives. It's second nature for them."