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

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You're looking for opportunities to show you're the kind of person who can solve real-world problems, who knows how to listen and understand so that the problems you settle are the problems your manager has. In a nutshell, you need to show you are someone who is ready to learn, not ready to show off.

End each interview by thanking the manager for his or her time (of course!). Also, make it clear you are actively looking for your first professional position, that you would be very interested in working for the manager if he or she has an open position, and if not, you would appreciate some guidance on who the manager might know and would be willing to introduce you to.

This is just a sketch of the process, of course. Last bit of guidance for the job search: Don't ever call this process "networking." The word is overused, is dehumanizing, and sounds manipulative. You're just meeting as many people in the industry as you can.

That's the starting point. Next you have to land a position.

Interviewing

Out of everything you might need to know about interviewing, if you remember just these few points, you should stand out from the pack:

  • Interview questions fall into two categories: qualifying questions and disqualifying questions. Qualifying questions are your chance to explain what you can do. Disqualifying questions are reasons to not hire you. When you're asked a disqualifying question, answer it as briefly as you can without sounding like you're ducking it, because no matter how brilliant your answer might be, it won't matter a bit. Example: "Are you willing to relocate?" Answer: "For a good opportunity, absolutely."
  • You're a professional, defined as "I have no problems, I cause no problems, I'll solve your problems." Project this attitude throughout the entire conversation.
  • What you aren't is a prima donna. You're the exact opposite. Say you're asked, "The pipes start to leak, and our equipment is in danger of shorting out. What do you do?" Answer: "First I grab my overcoat and put it over whatever looks most vulnerable. Then I grab a mop. Or, I do whatever the person in charge of managing the situation tells me to do."
  • Don't try to negotiate a great salary. Don't even mention salary. When the manager asks what you're looking for, explain that you realize getting your first position is the toughest step in your entire career. That's what you want to do, and your plan is to do whatever work the manager needs you to do. If that means learning Cobol or mainframe assembler, that's fine. You understand that right now, what's most important is building credentials that demonstrate you're the kind of person who gets whatever job done that needs to get done.
  • Finally, don't interview at all. Have a conversation.
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