How to get your first tech job -- it's not what you think

Many students entering the workforce have never been given any guidance on how to go about it. Here's what they should know


With colleges graduating their students this spring, what advice would you give those seeking to enter the IT profession? Both about their job search and expectations they should set for their first job. Thanks!


Galen Gruman

Executive Editor, InfoWorld


Gee, does this mean you're finally going to graduate and get a real IT job? Or is one of your offspring ready to rock 'n' roll?

Regardless, I'm delighted to answer your question, not least because do you think my own daughters would ask for my advice on a topic like this? Not a chance! They did, however, take my advice about going into a different line of work, so that's something.

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The short answer to any graduating student asking your question is: Stop thinking like yourself and start thinking like the person you'd like to work for. What you want doesn't matter right now. If you want to crack into IT during a period of relatively high unemployment and a fragile economy, you'll need to have a great answer to the question "Why should I hire you instead of one of the other applicants knocking on my door?"

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You won't have a good answer to that question if you're focused on what you want.

First you have to get a job. Succeeding at that starts with the understanding that none of the tools you're supposed to use will work. Forget the jobs boards -- they're a waste of your time. Spend a bit of time on LinkedIn, but not all that much. Facebook? We love to write about it, but unless a hiring manager you want to work for is one of your online friends or is a friend of one of your online friends, don't make that the heart of your effort, either.

The process that should never be called "networking"

What you need to do is to get directly in front of each manager you want to work for. Whatever you do, don't contact Human Resources, either. Its job is to screen you out if there's any possible reason for doing so. HR comes later, once you are a candidate.

You're going to contact each manager you'd like to work for, explaining that you're graduating with your IT degree and would like an opportunity to talk with someone who manages IT in the real world, to find out how it's different from what you've been learning about in the classroom.

Every time you're successful, have the conversation you promised, spending most of your time asking questions and listening carefully to the answers. Somewhere in each conversation, you'll hear about the problems the hiring manager has to deal with. When you do, look for opportunities to say something like, "You know, we covered this in one of my classes. Here's what I learned. Does it make sense in your world? Or is it something I'd better unlearn?"

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